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.
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’ 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.
*Contributed by John Ferreira