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Bo Jungle -1959 SA musical by Bertha Egnos

July 15, 2010

here is part two of the tribute to Bertha Egnos, one of South Africa’s grand old ladies of movies and musicals. See also my previous post OST Dingaka 1965 for more music and info on her career.

South African-born Egnos (1 January 1913-2 July 2003) was a talented musician in her own right who performed in London during the 1930s as a jazz pianist. During the Second World War she returned to South Africa, where she led the armed forces’ drum majorettes.

During the apartheid years she was a regular performer at the legendary Dorkay House venue in downtown Johannesburg, where black and white musicians defied the country’s laws by performing together under one roof.

Commissioner Street Empire theatre 1955

The Empire Theatre was situated in Commissioner Street (corner Kruis Street) diagonally opposite the Colosseum Theatre.

It was built during the mid-1930’s and formed part of the African Consolidated Theatres chain. It was used during the 1950’s and 1960’s alternatively as a live theatre venue and presented such Broadway smashes as ‘My Fair Lady’ (with Diane Todd) ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Fiddler On The Roof’. It was also the Johannesburg home of the fabulous minstrel shows devised by Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke.*

‘Bo Jungle’ was written and produced by Bertha Egnos while the music was by George Hayden who also played the organ. The show premiered at the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg in May 1959. It must have been an answer to the all black cast musical ‘King Kong’ that had it’s premiere that same year and became a huge international success.  ‘Bo Jungle’, however, remained an obscure production that raised only a few curtain calls in Jo’Burg theatres.

At first impression  ‘Bo Jungle’ has links to ‘King Kong’, even the cover  has the same graphic elements. But that is the only similarity, ‘Bo Jungle’ is an all white singing and dancing affair. It must have been quite a hilarious showdown of all the clichés in white South African culture; the black man as bingo bongo ape man beatin the drums and playing the flute on a streetcorner.

The cast features no black musicians nor players and the music is based on  the tradition of English Variety and Vaudeville rather then typical black South African music like jive, mbaqanga or kwela. Although one kwela type of track is featured; ‘Kwela Rickshaw’ by The Nu-Tones, sung in Zulu by an all white cast!

Bo Jungle -Kwela Rickshaw

‘Bo Jungle’ is a rather amusing selection of bel-canto vocal numbers, cha cha, calypso and even rock ‘n roll with the odd kwela tune thrown in for the local character.  Above all this record is a historical document of white South African culture in 1959.

Bo Jungle opening medley -‘Jungle Capers’/ ‘The Idol of my life’/Bingo Bongo Ape Man/Beatin of the drums’

Bo Jungle -Jungle Rock

*Contributed by John Ferreira

4 comments

  1. What exactly is it about studying things through someone else’s shoes that provides such an excellent perspective? There sure is some excellent mind food weblogs out there and I sure do feel like I have had a great helping here checking out your site. I ended up on here soon after researching some of my work stuff on Google and somehow found myself your website. It’s always good times browsing through and I’m hopeful that you’ll keep writing away. Cheers!


  2. great! and an experience of another era.. a lost time but with validity for then and enjoyable now.. thanks


  3. https://soulsafari.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/bo-jungle-1959-sa-musical-by-bertha-egnos/

    Thank you so much for posting the information on Bo Jungle! I was born in 1955 in Johannesburg. My father is John-Henry Janse van Rensburg and he sang the Bass in Bo Jungle! I was 4 years old when I asked for him to play the record over and over again! John van Rensburg, the Opera Singer, the Bass of the Century as he was called in newspaper clippings, and father to 4 kids died in Pretoria in May 2012. The song: “There is a big old roaring fire,….Braaivleis, draai die meisies, swaai die meisies…”


    • thanks so much for sharing your personal memories on your father and Bo Jungle! Much appreciated



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