Bo Jungle -1959 SA musical by Bertha Egnos

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

SA movies -1965 OST ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos

good day to all! Over the last  week or so the  attention over here has been focused mainly on musicals and soundtracks from our favorite 50’s & 60’s South African movies.  Served here today are some highlights, a few unusual works of Bertha Egnos, one of South Africa’s most underrated and forgotten composers. A remarkable talent that produced one of  South Africa’s most succesful musicals ever and many scores for movie soundtracks, plays and pop music that crossed over to the hit parade. But how well remembered is Bertha Egnos??
A Google search for a picture of the lady did not turn up anything! Not even some documentation on her long career in movies and musicals was found although Bertha Egnos was quite famous back in the 60’s and 70’s.  I believe the time has come to reconstruct a few bits and forgotten parts of her long career. Here’ s part one…
In a previous post‘An African Lullaby (tula baba)’ from 1963 by Eva Madison and the Bertha Gray Singers was highlighted. It is a traditional South African folk song that mothers sang to put their babies to sleep. It was re-written and adapted for the soundtrack of the movie  ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos who was making a name for herself earlier with musicals like ‘Bo Jungle‘ in 1959 and who would later become responsible for the musical ‘Ipi Tombi’.
In 1972, Bertha Egnos and her daughter, lyricist Gail Lakier, produced ‘Ipi Ntombi’ and ‘Mama Tembu’s Wedding’ as the two African songs for Eartha Kitt’s tour of  South Africa. Although the numbers were rejected by Kitt for being “too upbeat and rhythmic”, Egnos and Lakier were undeterred. They added another eight songs and released an album called ‘The Warrior’  in 1973. Later versions became known as ‘Ipi Ntombi’, or even more simplified as ‘Ipi Tombi’.
Sure, from a critical point of view,  these  shows sentimentalized and celebrated the life of the rural ‘native’. This form of theatre in South Africa confirmed white attitudes and prejudices and is blatantly paternalistic in the long colonial tradition. But nevertheless, ‘Ipi Ntombi’ showed the world South African Zulu tribal culture at its best and popularized this at a time when Apartheid still ruled the Union.

The musical sequences featured on the soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ were personally selected and edited by South Africa’s star actor-director-producer Jamie Uys.  The soundtrack was written by  Bertha Egnos, Eddie Domingo and Basil Gray. From a musical point of view, this soundtrack recording is without a doubt one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the ever-growing library of authentic African music. The songs reflect the colour, the driving rhythm, the vast panorama of sound and music which add up to what novelist Stuart Cloete once described as being ‘the song of Africa….the song no white man will ever sing’.
Dingaka tells the story of a tribesman, Ntuku Makwena, who avenges the murder of his daughter according to custom tribal laws. His act of revenge leads him to be tried under government laws, where justice for black people does not exist. The film stars Ken Gampu, Stanley Baker, Juliet Prowse and Bob Courtney.
excerpts from the original liner notes of ‘Dingaka’ Gallotone GALP 1385 released in 1965

the original soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ can be found here

a VHS is available on eBay (updated 16th January 2015)

Cast “Dingaka” 1965

Stanley Baker -Tom Davis

Willem Botha-Court Clerk

 Bob Courtney-Prison Chaplain

 Ken Gampu-Ntuku Makwena

 Gordon Hood-Prosecutor

Alfred Jabulani-Mpudi

Paul Makgob-Masaba

Daniel Marolen-Priest

Sophie Mgcina-Choir Soloist

George Moore-Legal Aid Society Secretary

 Flora Motaung-Rurari

 Siegfried Mynhardt-Judge

 Hugh Rouse-Bantu Commissioner

 Jimmy Sabe-Leadsinger

 John Sithebe-Witch Doctor

 Simon Swindell-Doctor

 Thandi -Letsea

 Clement Mehlomakulu Tlhotlhhalemji-Priest

 Fusi Zazayokwe-Stick fighter


Jamie Uys


Jamie Uys


Jamie Uys

Original Music

Eddie Domingo

Bertha Egnos

Basil Gray

King Kong -Original London Stage Cast 1961

king kong UK LP voorkant

King Kong 1961 -King Kong

King Kong 1961 -Damn him

…in a previous post I have highlighted the original South African stage production and LP release of “King Kong, All African Jazz Opera“. Now here is an alternative version released in 1961 that surprisingly  has far more production numbers and new songs than the  original play and LP of 1959

Recorded in Johannesburg , South Africa by the original cast of King Kong, without Miriam Makeba, whose musical opened at the Princes Theatre, London, on 23 February 1961, after having taking South Africa by storm.

princes theatre london
The Princes Theatre, London UK 1961

The sleeve carries this message on the back:  “No theatrical venture in South Africa has had the sensational success of King Kong. This musical, capturing the life, colour and effervescence – as well as the poignancy and sadness – of township life, has come as a revelation to many South Africans that art does not recognise racial barriers.”

King Kong 1961 -In the queue

King Kong 1961 -Gumboot Dance

Décor and costumes for the King Kong musical were by Arthur Goldreich, who also designed the LP cover. Goldreich was a leading architect and visual designer living in Johannesburg, a Jewish Communist who was arrested by the Apartheid regime in one of the clampdowns in the early 60’s.

King Kong 1961 -Crazy Kid

King Kong 1961 -Wedding Hymn

Also the orchestral arrangements and vocals have been altered, probably to suit European tastes and preferences and to add more drama and dynamics to the new stage version. The credit “Jack Hylton presents” on the cover seems to have been added simply as some assurance of quality entertainment. Later pressings of this LP have the subtitle ‘All African Opera’ without mentioning the word ‘Jazz’…

king kong UK LP voorkant

King Kong hoes 1961 achter

King Kong 1961 -Be smart, be wise

King Kong 1961 -Sad times, bad times

Jack Hylton presents ‘King Kong’ Decca stereo SKL 4132 UK first issued 1961

King Kong, the first All African Jazz Opera 1956

King Kong is of course one of the most famous movies ever made, involving a big ape being transported to New York from an obscure island. But in 1956 in South Africa King Kong became the first all African Jazz Opera starring Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers with Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela among others.

Miriam Makeba

Between the conception of ‘King Kong’ and the actual premiere of the musical lay 3 years. In  1956, the syndicate of African Artists commissioned Todd Matshikiza’s ‘Uxolo’, a work on a massive scale  for choir and brass band. Todd Matshikiza wrote great choral works, using a brass band because it was impossible for him at that time to get access to a full orchestra. He wrote in a certain way because he was a man who interacted with jazz musicians, understood what genres were all about….

Matshikiza wrote the music and some lyrics using as much African lingo as he could.  ‘King Kong’ was situated in a township in the heart of the White kingdom and blacks were shot at sight at nine by the police, especially if they were talking some lingo.

Nathan Mdeledle played the title role with Miriam Makeba,the female lead as  the shebeen queen,  Joyce, who presides over the legendary Back O’the Moon drinking den.

A fourteen piece orchestra backed the sixty-three member cast, the cream of the era’s modern jazz players. Among them was reed player Kippie Moketsi, whose contribution to modern jazz led to comparisons with Charlie Parker.

The musical was produced by Ian Ephriam Bernhardt,  the manager of Dorkey House as I was informed by his son Brian Bernhardt recently.

Back O’the Moon

The show opened on 2 February 1959 at the Wits University Great Hall and was an immediate success; the white Star newspaper called it ‘the greatest thrill in 20 years of South African theatre-going’. In South Africa, it repeated packed runs over the next two years before securing a London booking for early 1961. By the time the company left for London,  200.000 South Africans had seen King Kong. Two-thirds of them were white. The music of ‘King Kong’ was also favorite amongst the punters of  the Jo’burg shebeens and listeners to black radio stations all over the country.

The origins of South African theatre can be found in the rich and ancient oral tradition of indigenous South Africans – the folk tales around the fires, with their drama, and an audience ranging from the very young to the very old. Performances on stage came much later. In the townships, particularly in Johannesburg’s vibrant Sophiatown, an eclectic performance culture developed, drawing on American, English and African cultural traditions and involved comic sketches and acting as well as jazz, singing and dancing.

King Kong -All African Jazz Opera, music by Todd Matshikiza, lyrics by Pat Williams, book by Harry Bloom.

cast king kong copy

Todd Matshikiza with members of the original cast at work

band king kong

The real King Kong

From time to time, in every country in the world, a figure emerges from the masses –pulled up usually by his own bootstraps- and catches the imagination and affection of the people. King Kong was such a person. Mostly they are tough guys and flouters of authority, but often they have courage.

King Kong, more prosaically Ezekiel Dhlamini, was a Zulu from Vrijheid. Dhlamini’s meteoric rise to the top of South African boxing dwindled into lost bouts, drunkenness, off-ring violence and murder. He knifed his girlfriend when she arrived in a club surrounded by rival gangsters. He asked for the death sentence, but got 14 years hard labour – and drowned himself in March 1957 at the age of 32;  a perfect story for the first township musical. He was a bully, and a braggart and was recognized as such in the townships. Yet they cheered him. He brought colour, vitality and excitement into their lives. And hope, too.

King Kong

Kwela Kong

If a man could work himself up to be a heavyweight champion and have the crowds roaring their delighted heads off as he jumped flamboyantly over the ropes into the ring, perhaps they, too could somehow manufacture this sort of adulation for themselves.

Uncontrolled and violent in temper, the downward slide began when a middleweight champ –a puny man by comparison- knocked him out in the ring. The unthinkable had happened.

Sad Times, Bad Times

When King Kong staggered up that night from the canvas he was not the same man. Some people had laughed, actually laughed when he was floored. Thereafter he went about beating up anybody with the suspicion of a jeer in the face.

In a brawl the leader of a much-feared gang lay dead, felled by King Kong’s fists. The plea was self-defence, an he was acquitted. But the next he was in court the charge was murder. She had been his girl friend.

It was the night the had hired a hall for the dance. The girl arrived followed by a gang who forced their way in. There was a fight. The girl was knifed. Above the din the tremendous voice of King Kong roared; ‘send for the police’.

And when they came he stood there, the knife still in his hand. He refused to drop it and was warned that action would be taken unless he did. He refused again and firing began. He appeared at a preparatory examination into an allegation of murder and was committed for trial. Eccentric to the last –he pleaded guilty. In February 1957 he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labour.

‘No’, he cried out. ‘I tell you to sentence me to death’. The judge rebuked him and repeated ‘twelve years hard labour’. What good would that do, King Kong asked, in stopping other people from killing.

He was sent with a labour gang to Leeuwkop. There is a vast dam there. One day, within a short time of being sentenced, he leapt far into it.

Two days passed before they could find the body. King Kong was about 32.

about Todd Matshikiza

Todd Matshikiza, who composed the music of ‘King Kong’ was commissioned in 1956 to write a choral work for 200 voices and orchestra for the Johannesburg Festival, the result being ‘Uxolo’.

A musician of exceptional gifts, Matshikiza was born in Queenstown and has his early education at St Peter’s, Rosettenville. He matriculated from Adams College and then studied at the Lovedale Teacher’s Training College. For some time he taught at Lovedale High School.

He is one of a family of 10, all of whom are either singers or instrumentalists. His father was a church organist. He started to play the piano at the age of six, and music has absorbed him ever since.

Todd Matshikiza made his home in Johannesburg in 1947, and in the past 11 years he has turned his hand to many things other than music. In between composing choral works and songs –many of which are heard regularly over the radio in the township-he has been bookseller, messenger boy, hotel waiter and journalist.

Quickly in Love

His newspaper career began in 1951 when he joined the editorial staff of ‘Drum’ under editor Anthony Sampson. He wrote vigorous, colourful prose, and the way he played with words was not without its own kind of music. Sampson in his book ‘Drum’ pays warm tribute to the part that Matshikiza played in helping to establish the magazine.

about Pat Williams

Pat Williams, lyric and scriptwriter, is a journalist of wide and varied experience. She started on the Cape Times at the age of 18, then joined the Sunday Times, where she wrote specialized articles on a wide range of subjects under her own name. For more than a year she was the newspaper’s film and theatre critic. Ms Williams has a natural flair for writing verse, both light and serious, and her delightful pieces have appeared in most of the major newspapers of the country.

credits king kong

Original liner notes from “King Kong, All African Jazz Opera” Original Cast 1959

(Gallo GALP 1040, South Africa)

excerpt from “Soweto Blues” Gwen Ansell Continuum 2004

 the South African and UK release of 1961 ‘King Kong’ is still available as second hand vinyl.  Check out the following link