good day to all! Over the last week or so the attention over here has been focused mainly on musicals and soundtracks from our favorite 50’s & 60’s South African movies. Served here today are some highlights, a few unusual works of Bertha Egnos, one of South Africa’s most underrated and forgotten composers. A remarkable talent that produced one of South Africa’s most succesful musicals ever and many scores for movie soundtracks, plays and pop music that crossed over to the hit parade. But how well remembered is Bertha Egnos??
A Google search for a picture of the lady did not turn up anything! Not even some documentation on her long career in movies and musicals was found although Bertha Egnos was quite famous back in the 60’s and 70’s. I believe the time has come to reconstruct a few bits and forgotten parts of her long career. Here’ s part one…
In a previous post
, ‘An African Lullaby (tula baba)’
from 1963 by Eva Madison and the Bertha Gray Singers was highlighted. It is a traditional South African folk song that mothers sang to put their babies to sleep. It was re-written and adapted for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos who was making a name for herself earlier with musicals like ‘Bo Jungle
‘ in 1959 and who would later become responsible for the musical ‘Ipi Tombi’.
In 1972, Bertha Egnos and her daughter, lyricist Gail Lakier, produced ‘Ipi Ntombi’ and ‘Mama Tembu’s Wedding’ as the two African songs for Eartha Kitt’s tour of South Africa. Although the numbers were rejected by Kitt for being “too upbeat and rhythmic”, Egnos and Lakier were undeterred. They added another eight songs and released an album called ‘The Warrior’ in 1973. Later versions became known as ‘Ipi Ntombi’, or even more simplified as ‘Ipi Tombi’.
Sure, from a critical point of view, these shows sentimentalized and celebrated the life of the rural ‘native’. This form of theatre in South Africa confirmed white attitudes and prejudices and is blatantly paternalistic in the long colonial tradition. But nevertheless, ‘Ipi Ntombi’ showed the world South African Zulu tribal culture at its best and popularized this at a time when Apartheid still ruled the Union.
The musical sequences featured on the soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ were personally selected and edited by South Africa’s star actor-director-producer Jamie Uys. The soundtrack was written by Bertha Egnos, Eddie Domingo and Basil Gray. From a musical point of view, this soundtrack recording is without a doubt one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the ever-growing library of authentic African music. The songs reflect the colour, the driving rhythm, the vast panorama of sound and music which add up to what novelist Stuart Cloete once described as being ‘the song of Africa….the song no white man will ever sing’.
Dingaka tells the story of a tribesman, Ntuku Makwena, who avenges the murder of his daughter according to custom tribal laws. His act of revenge leads him to be tried under government laws, where justice for black people does not exist. The film stars Ken Gampu, Stanley Baker, Juliet Prowse and Bob Courtney.
excerpts from the original liner notes of ‘Dingaka’ Gallotone GALP 1385 released in 1965
the original soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ can be found here
a VHS is available on eBay (updated 16th January 2015)
Cast “Dingaka” 1965
Stanley Baker -Tom Davis
Willem Botha-Court Clerk
Bob Courtney-Prison Chaplain
Ken Gampu-Ntuku Makwena
Sophie Mgcina-Choir Soloist
George Moore-Legal Aid Society Secretary
Hugh Rouse-Bantu Commissioner
John Sithebe-Witch Doctor
Clement Mehlomakulu Tlhotlhhalemji-Priest
Fusi Zazayokwe-Stick fighter