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Matshikiza, Pat Vuyisile (South Africa)  
Pat Matshikiza

The genesis is a place called Queenstown in the Eastern Cape where Pat was born into a piano family on 20th November 1938. The father, himself a pianist from a musical family, was for a long time the official pianist for the Eisteddfods when they came to Queenstown. The old man - a bread deliverer for the local bakery - could read music and spent endless times after work on the piano either playing or tuning it after a day of merciless banging by the Matshikiza kids, with Pat invariably being accused no. 1 in the assaults on the ebonies and ivories. But with Matshikiza being a benevolent man the kids were always forgiven their misdemeanor on the old piano. The favourite tunes thumped on the Matshikiza households prize possession were a broad variety that stretched from Handell to Duke Ellington, all of whom were played frequently on the record player in New Brighton (now known as Mlungisi) township. And if the father was forgiving, his younger brother, the late Todd Matshikiza, was very useful with some lessons and advice to Pat and others, who as youngsters, were part of a vibrant and competitive music tradition in Komani (as Queenstown is now known).

Genre: African Jazz
Komani, for those who might not know, is also known as Emagezeni the place of madness. The reason for this might lie with the fact that Queenstown has a mental hospital. In fact, during the homeland system there were two mental hospitals in a radius of a few kilometers from each other

In Xhosa mythology the phenomena of madness is very much linked to artistry and music. It is an interesting coincidence therefore that that little place in the Eastern Cape has produced some of the best musicians in the country. Amongst them can be counted the likes of Todd Matshikiza, Margaret Mcingana, Stompie Mavi, Don Tshobela and many others who have become legends of the South African discography.

During the youth of Pat Matshikiza, Queenstown was a musical buzz with different genres competing and complimenting each other around every street corner. Within this milieu Pat Matshikiza studied and finished his secondary education and later enrolled for a teacher’s diploma at St Matthews, a missionary establishment near Keiskammahoek under the Mathole Mountains. It is at “Saints" where the musical dynamo of Pat Matshikiza jumped centre stage. And there, as fate would have it, the mission and the churches organist, Mrs. Humbleby, had to leave for England on some urgent family business. The young Pat was roped in to assist with the organ for the sermons. He first played by ear but soon learnt to read music and soon mastered Handell’s Messiah. When Humbleby came back she handed the organ over to the 19-year-old Pat and took over as conductor of the school choir. Matshikiza and Humbleby were like a house on fire as they went through the classics with vim, vigor and rigor. This collaboration resulted in Pat being some super star of sorts at St Matthews, what with him getting special privileges, his school fees suspended and allowed to strut around with the prefects! When St Matthews was converted to a girl’s school, Pat and others were transferred to Lovedale where he completed his higher certificate in teaching.

Armed with a higher certificate in education, an unforgettable experience with the classics on organ and a dollop of street cred with the piano, Pat Matshikiza was unleashed onto the population. All these qualifications did not help in securing a job as an educationist. He just could not get a post and settled for the job of steward and sometimes porter at the hotel in Queenstown. This lasted for two years and after a short stint as a pianist in an establishment in Aliwal North, a cousin of his living in Johannesburg introduced him to his exodus to the big city and Dorkay House circa 2.

His first band in the big bad city was the Jazz Dazzlers, Mackay Davashe’s band. “Hell man that was a big band" says brah Pat excitedly in his flat in Hillbrow. “There was Mackay Davashe on tenor sax, Kippie Moeketsie on alto sax, Makhaya Ntshoko on drums, Saint Mokoangoe on bass, Dennis Mpale on trumpet, Blyth Mbityana on trombone, Pat Matshikiza on piano. And on vocals: Letta Mbuli, Thandi Klaasen, Ben ‘Satch' Masinga, the Woody Woodpeckers including Victor Ndlazolwana and an array of backup singers featuring amongst others Abigail Khubeka. The show was called “Back in your own Backyard"

T The silent insistence in Mackay Davashe’s band was simply skill and talent. And while there, although he did not play his own compositions, Pat Matshikiza learnt the art of listening to the urban landscape with its many sounds and found a strange canvas in his own soul and mind where he could musically paint his own muse. While playing with these greats and hearing their innovation he miraculously also heard his own voice from many nights in Queenstown where he used to be woken up by harrowing tunes. He recollects how he, after nights like those, would speak to his late mom about these haunting tunes. And then his mother used to say “those tunes are your songs my son. Those are gifts from God to you."

And now in Johannesburg and armed with “tunes from God" he started attending jam sessions at Dorkay House where he jammed with the likes of Chris McGregor and others who later left for exile. It was in fact McGregor who, during these jam sessions, came to Pat and pointed out to him the singularity of his style on piano. McGregor told Pat that there was a man who wants him to come and play at his place. A baffled Pat then enquired from Chris how possible that was, seeing that he (McGregor) was a pianist himself “No" McGregor answered immediately, “the guy says he wants you. He wants you alone. He likes your style."

If there is ever any proof that Pat Matshikiza had carved for himself a distinct sound on the piano, this is it. And long after the Jazz Dazzlers had disbanded, and Chris McGregor and others had left for exile, Matshikiza stayed on playing almost all over the country for almost every and anybody. He entered jazz competitions and won prizes that sometimes lured him overseas but he miraculously refused to leave and preferred to play in South Africa. Like Winston ‘Mankunku' Ngozi he formed a bridge between time and space by keeping the home fires burning, but sadly he never had the fortune to exhibit in a very significant way the majesty of the sound that he so obviously possesses. He ended up playing in hotels and such places and gigs that hardly denote the maestro in him. At best he became an evasive legend whose musical voice spoke louder than his persona in the annals of the South African jazz discography.

In a literal way Pat Matshikiza also at some point “disappeared" from the face of the earth when he assumed a new identity as “Patrick Matthews." It was a ‘low tide' in South African sociology. To enter particular venues and get certain opportunities one had to change names. Pat Matshikiza was no exception and he got himself a new identity document as Pat Matthews. But Pat Matthews was crudely unmasked by his music. While walking and working around as Pat Matthews the fans of Tshona would recognize him and reveal his true identity. “Hier is ou Tshona" "Here is old Tshona" the coloured residents of Eldorado Park, a Township near Johannesburg, would point out, recollecting his face from his collaboration with Kippie Moeketsie. He could run but hiding was impossible. Even as a driver of a tow truck when times were really down, his musical persona stood out larger than life and finally he gave up and returned to rhythm and tune even if it was in the lobbies of a hotel where he somehow always went to, since leaving Lovedale.

His recent exit from the hotel lobby was when he received a call from Metallon to record a solo album Pat Matshikiza: Seasons, Masks and Keys. And while Seasons, Masks and Keys, as a piece of Matshikiza’s repertoire, recognizes the artistry of this great musician, it is only an introduction to the musical abilities of a person who through time has escaped the web of anachronism and nostalgia in art. Seasons, Masks and Keys is an opening verse in a narrative that he now so aptly carries forward and backwards in this latest offering of undulated melody, rhythm and “tunes from God"

this text Sandile Dikeni 2005.
extract from sleevenotes for the album Seasons, Masks and Keys
Released by Catwalk Records, distributed by Gallo Record Company.
Catalogue number CDCAT002 (ON)

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