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.
My collection of records from South Africa consists of many colours, mainly black music but my heart is also weak for the sound of pop music that was popular in the 1960’s in the swanky restaurants, hotels and nightclubs of Johannesburg, Cape Town and East London. The circuit reached as far as the holiday resorts in Mocambique, Portuguese Angola, even the Belgian Congo.
Around 1965 Mediterranean music became hugely popular in South Africa. Dance styles like the Twist, the Mambo and the Cha Cha, originally born and bred in the United States first swept Italy and the Mediterranean region before being exported to South Africa where performers catered for the refined taste of the well heeled visitors and sophisticated dancers that frequented the big hotels and nightclubs of the capital. More and more European musicians, singers and bands landed in eGoli, the city of gold & diamonds where riches and fame was to be found aplenty. There existed a circuit of hip places and palaces of nocturnal pleasures; nightclubs, bars and restaurants where live music was an extra attraction to the fine dining and luxurious surroundings. Valet parking included.
This exclusive Q&A tells the story of nightlife in Johannesburg in 1965 through the memories of Italian born singer Viviana. Part One.
In 1965 singer Viviana came to the city of Pretoria with a head full of dreams and a voice that could charm birds out of trees. She followed her father Prof. Carlo Pacchiori who was head-hunted in Trieste, Italy by Maestro Leo Quayle and Mr Bosman de Kock, who came to hear her dad and offered him the position of First Lead Violin in the PACT, South Africa’s first symphonic orchestra with musicians from all over the world.
While growing up in Italy, Viviana made her first pop broadcast over Radio Trieste when she was nine. She was an established nightclub singer in Europe when she came to South Africa. She sang in seven languages and made her first South African LP “Réne Moya featuring Viviana”
Q-please tell me when you arrived in South Africa and what drove you there. Were you already a professional singer?
A-I arrived in Pretoria in 1965, from Trieste Italy. My father had been head-hunted to be to first lead violin of the PACT orchestra. He came to South Africa in 1964 when the PACT Orchestra was created, my mother and I followed a few months later. I had already been singing professionally on weekends and some gigs at night as I was finishing school too. My first public appearance was when I was nine and I sang in concert and Italian Radio. I was well liked. When I arrived in Pretoria I was introduced to a pianist whose name I cannot remember. I did a few gigs and concerts with him, but, pushed by my parents I was also working as a secretary at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria. This pianist thought it was a disgrace for me to work in an office and he organized for me to have an audition with Dan Hill, so we drove to Johannesburg.
Q-Dan Hill was one of the leading artists/arrangers/band leaders at the time.Can you tell me more about your collaboration with him?
A-Dan liked me, but at that time he already had a singer and he immediately phoned Réne Moya to tell him he had a vocalist for his combo. I started working with Réne, then Réne left for a few months and I joined Dan at the Grove. –The Grove was a nightclub at the Orange Grove Hotel, situated at 192, Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg –note of the editor
We did many gigs together too, weddings, functions. Dan Hill was one of the best musicians in S.A. and very well respected. Unfortunately I was not with him for a very long time. He was a very kind man and nice to the musos. Then Réne returned and I went back to work with him, Dan asked us to do an LP together, he previously had done an previous album only with Réne when I wasn’t on the scene yet. I only did one LP with Dan Hill that was released as “Réne Moya featuring Viviana”. After that I did a few radio transcriptions with Rollo Scott. He was a big personality/producer at SABC. The song “Lost in Love” I co-wrote with Rollo Scott, the musical arrangement is by Bez Martin, a brilliant saxophone player. I worked a lot on gigs with him.
Q-describe the nightlife scene in Johannesburg at the time. What sort of people did visit the restaurants/nightclubs. Were there any foreigners? Were people of different race & colour allowed in as guests?
A-I must say I was a bit unaware about any laws at that time, I did not see any blacks as patrons. Yes there were people of other races in the restaurants, Chinese, Japanese, Indians too, all countries. People were extremely elegant in those days. The men wearing suits and ladies always in evening dresses. Lots of jewels and fur coats. Very high standard, opulent clients. There was a lot of happiness at that time and fun everywhere. Those times where swinging.
The Mikado Restaurant was a top spot opposite Joubert Park, very luxurious and it belonged to Francesco and Janice Miller. A fantastic restaurant with bands and shows at every corner.
Réne Moya was considered one of the top pianists of that era and I was a very young girl with a passion for singing. Everyone was much older than I was, and I learnt a lot. We used to play until very late, starting at 8pm and finishing at 2am, the places were always full. All the rich and famous came to the Mikado.
Much later the Mikado became the Garden of Allah ( a curry place), I don’t know what it is called now, but years ago it looked totally deteriorated, so sad. It used to be an amazing place. We all knew each other (I mean all the bands), musos from one place would visit other spots if they finished earlier. Many times I found myself at Fontana’s in Hillbrow at 3 am getting food, and there I would see other musos from other spots coming for a bite to eat. We had theme nights too at the Mikado, mainly continental inspired.
We were there when the big train robbery happened and were very puzzled by some English men, very showy, gangster types who looked extremely rich and came to the Mikado every night. They only came for a short while and then we never saw them again.
Of course being in the band has a lot of perks as everyone invites you to their table for drinks and you get close to everybody. I never drank, but there was a lot of happy drinking going on. It wasn’t just the restaurants and the clubs, the movie houses were popular too, beautiful places decorated with balconies and statues inside them. They looked incredible. People dressed up to go to movies just as much as going to clubs.
I remember that here was one striptease artist only, Glenda Kemp, that scandalized the scene a bit. I personally thought she was very good. I met her again 30 years ago and she was selling clothes in a boutique in Jo’burg, subsequently she moved to Durban, she had become a Christian, keeping to herself, and was very ashamed about her past. I tried to tell her she had nothing to be ashamed of, but she felt very guilty. Very sweet girl that had been exploited by her partner.
Q-did International artists perform in the circuit?
A-I remember when Marlene Dietrich came, in fact she was on the plane I was on coming to South Africa, Liberace I remember. But mainly they were not working on the circuit since they gave performances in theaters and came to the clubs after that as patrons. Otherwise some restaurants imported Continental bands. Even a friend of my dad, from Trieste Italy, came with his band and played at Ciro’s for 6 months. His name was Giorgio Paoletti. Of course we had Renatino di Napoli. When I was working in Port Elizabeth at the Mark, the daughter of Winston Churchill, there on holiday, was always wanting to spend time with us, even during the day, she was a lonely lady and loved music.