Dorothy Masuka was one of the great South African jazz singers of the 1950s. Together with Dolly Rathebe and Miriam Makeba she became an iconic singer and writer of memorable tunes like Pata Pata, Kwawuleza and Into Yam. Many of her songs were recorded by artists like Makeba.
“ Her music was the soundtrack of some our most joyful moments, the light of or souls during our darkest hours” said Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Arts & Culture minister following her death.
Masuka had been suffering from complications related to hypertension, after having a mild stroke in 2018. One of her last stage performances was at Winnie Mandela’s funeral in that same year.
Go Go Suffering
Dorothy Masuka was born in 1935 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Her parents migrated to South Africa when she was 12 years old. Despite her parents’ disapproval, Masuka dropped out of school at 16 to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer.
She signed a deal to record with Troubadour Records and after a spell with the African Ink Spots she left for Zimbabwe to join The Golden Rhythm Crooners. But she was soon on her way back to Johannesburg and in the train she penned ‘Hamba Hamba Nontsokolo’ loosely translated as ‘go, go suffering’.
The song became her biggest hit and one of the most popular songs of the 1950s. It is regarded as an African classic and remains her signature tune to this day. By 1953, when she was 18, Masuka was already a fully fledged professional musician and, along with Makeba and Hugh Masekela, she toured with Alf Herbert’s African Jazz & Variety Show and with the musical King Kong.
She also performed with the Harlem Swingsters in the mid-1950s and endeared herself to a wide audience with her provocative compositions that riled the apartheid regime. In 1961, the Special Branch seized the master recordings of her composition ‘Lumumba’ which paid tribute to Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo. She also dared to write a political song about the then Prime Minister Dr Malan and was exiled for over 30 years. In Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and the UK Masuka campaigned for the liberation of SA through her music.
After many years working as a flight attendant for Zambian Airways, she returned to South Africa at the beginning of the 1990’s. A few years later she was a recipient of the Order of Ikhamanga Silver from the SA government. Dorothy Masuka was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in the US in 2002.
source; The Sowetan/The Herald -Kyle Zeeman