In my previous post Last Night At The Mikado –Q&A with singer Viviana…Part One Italian born singer Viviana remembers working and partying in Johannesburg and around the clubs, restaurants in East London in the mid 1960’s.
This is part two of an exclusive Q&A I had with Viviana. Thanks so much for the memories.
Last Night At The Mikado –Q&A with singer Viviana…Part Two
Q-did any black artists performed in Jo’burg nightlife around 1965? Was jazz music popular in the circuit you worked in?
A- a few black artists performed, but not many. I didn’t know most of their names and frankly personally I only saw a few, one of them was Hugh Masekela. As musicians we didn’t differentiate with races, and accepted talent and technique only. It was different with the laws of the country, but to all of us it never made any difference. I know they were required to enter the premises from the back door, but the clients liked them very much. As for jazz venues, I don’t recall any specific one, but I do remember a combo with Hennie Bekker (piano), Johnny Fourie (guitar), Johnny Boshoff (bass), Tony Moore (drums) they played excellent fusion and being good musicians they eventually played and produced at SABC. I worked with all of them on one nighters, shows and functions later on after they disbanded
Q-were there any specific discotheques/places for dancing or only restaurants with dancing facilities. How safe was it to go out at night?
A- I don’t remember many discotheques except Bella Napoli in Hillbrow. Every restaurant had a band and everywhere you could dance till very late. Nobody had any problems walking around at any time at night. It was extremely safe. In fact until 1983/84 Johannesburg was still safe enough, as I remember walking in Hillbrow to go to Fontana’s to get a roast chicken at 3am, in my jammies. At that time the guys from club 58 (gay club) used to come to my flat and wake me up when they finished working, so we would make coffee and go and get food.
Q-what neighbourhoods of Jo’burg were frequented for the nightlife? Around Market Street, around the theatres?
A-Mainly the scene was in Hillbrow , Market Street, Joubert Park and Downtown. Now all these places are impossible to go to, very dangerous, and have deteriorated dreadfully.
Q-I understand that lots of the music that was featured in the restaurants/nightlife was called ‘Continental’. French, Italian, etc. Why do you think that was? Was there a certain taste for European music? Was any typical South African music performed?
A- Continental music was extremely popular and I guess I was lucky to arrive at that time as I did not have to make many changes to my repertoire. I don’t know why, or who started the trend. I guess also the Latin-american trend in movies was to blame. Typical South african music, and by that I mean afrikaans was not considered trendy enough for clubs. But there were a lot records in Afrikaans. The one modern band that was upcoming was Rabbit, they were young and rock, but they were sort of “squashed” by the media, Trevor Rabin was in that group. Eventually they left the country and I see that Trevor writes a lot of huge movie soundtracks in the USA.
Q-you mentioned Bez Martin, a saxophone player. I do own a record by him “Shuffle With Bez, Cha Cha with Martin” on which he plays cha cha and shuffle styles of music. Were these styles played a the nightclubs/restaurants mainly or were there more styles of dancing that were popular at the time?
A-Bez was a friend for many years and I did many functions with him at the Superbowl in Sun City many years later as well. Continental music was played everywhere, but also we played a lot of swing and American classics. Whatever came from the States and we heard on the Radio, we rehearsed in the afternoon and played the same night.
A-were your bookings for a longer period or for just one night?
Q- I was always booked with a minimum 3 months contract or longer. Although we did one nighters on our night off (Sunday). Weddings etc. We worked very hard, I still can’t believe I had all that energy and still had time to party some nights after work.
A-were you touring the country and working the circuit?
Q- After Johannesburg I went on the circuit, and that means you can never take a holiday, as the bands change every 3 or 6 months (I did stay in some Hotels for a year and longer) we had an agent Maurice Fresco (after Keleti) and he kept on booking us from place to place for many years. Only top 5 stars Hotels.
Q-what about Lourenco Marques in Mozambique. What sort of nightlife entertainment was on offer? Were the records released by the bands/singers manufactured as a souvenir or commercially released by the record companies?
A- I know Rene’ worked at the Polana Hotel, that was very famous and came to South Africa after working in Mozambique and Angola, that was also a swinging place. I am not aware of records released commercially, but I really don’t know.
Q-have you ever performed in Afrikaans speaking places of interest. Like Loch Vaal Hotel?
A- I have never performed in Afrikaans speaking places. I only did a concert once on a sunday with an Afrikaans band, it was in a huge tent and in a little dorp (village, place) outside Johannesburg. Frankly I should have kept on doing those concerts as everyone that sang there became extremely famous in the country. Lol.
Q-does any of these places ring a bell?? The Beachcomber in Durban. The Caravelle in Johannesburg. The Balalaika Hotel – a popular country type of hotel/restaurant-. Franco Italian restaurant in Johannesburg. Tiffany’s Restaurant in Commissioner Street, Jo’burg.
A- Yes all of them, very famous. I ate at Franco’s often and got special treats (being Italian and speaking the lingo) I did sing at the Balalaika on occasions, and then much later we did a contract there for 6 months, but not in the 60s, in the 70s.
Q-have you ever heard of a singer called Eduardo Jaime? He was Portuguese and very famous in South Africa if I’m well informed.
A-Yes I met Eduardo, he was working with Rene’ at the Mikado before me, I believe I got the job because Dan called Rene’ when him and Eduardo were having a lot of differences and Eduardo just got fired. Rene’ and Eduardo were both very fiery. They were partners in crime though when it came to parties and girls. Yes he was Portuguese. I have no idea how long he worked at the Mikado.