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Kippie lives on in Newtown Print E-mail

A meeting of old friends: the unveiling of the statue of Kippie Moeketsi in Newtown

A sculpture of jazz legend Kippie Moeketsi has been unveiled outside the old Kippies Jazz Club in the Market Theatre complex.

JAZZ maestro Jonas Gwangwa had a chance to reconnect with his mentor, Kippie Moeketsi - Gwangwa sat in a metal chair gazing at a sculpture of Moeketsi, as if exchanging thoughts with him.

Kippie Moeketsi, the latest addition to Joburg's public art
Kippie Moeketsi, the latest addition to Joburg's public art
The bronze sculpture, unveiled on Friday, 25 September, depicts Moeketsi sitting alone, pondering in his chair, holding his beloved saxophone. A second chair completes the statue, the latest addition to Johannesburg's growing public art collection.

"Bra Kippie was a very, very talented musician ... he became a father of jazz," said Gwangwa. "He was very challenging. He'd just walk on stage, take out his horn and play."

Gwangwa spoke fondly about how Moeketsi honed his skills and those of other musicians such as Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand. Under the auspices of Father Trevor Huddleston, Moeketsi led the Jazz Epistles in the 1950s.

The septet comprised Moeketsi on alto sax, Ibrahim on piano, Masekela blowing his trumpet, Early Mabuza and Makhaya Ntshoko on drums, Johnny Gertse on guitar and Gwangwa on trombone. "Bra Kippie was very strict," said Gwangwa.

He was "quite gratified" that Moeketsi was being honoured with the statue, designed by Guy du Toit and Egon Tania. The sculpture has been placed outside the refurbished Kippies Jazz Club, which will become an events space and a jazz museum rather than a music venue when it re-opens later this year. It is part of the Market Theatre complex in Newtown.

The depiction of Moeketsi sitting in solitude with his saxophone captured a story so relevant to his life, said Steven Sack, the City's director of arts and culture. "When he sits there all alone you kind of feel the spirit of the man as there was that loneliness in him."

Sack has memories of seeing Moeketsi perform in Pretoria Street, Hillbrow, when he was growing up. "I have a personal interest in this project; I saw and heard Kippie play."

It was hoped that the artwork "captures the spirit of Kippie" and, more especially, that musicians who performed with him "recognise him". "I hope we have succeeded in keeping the spirit of Kippie, the man," Sack explained.

The statue captures the essence of Kippie Moeketsi, says Steven Sack, the City’s director of arts, culture and heritage
The statue captures the essence of Kippie Moeketsi, says Steven Sack, the City’s director of arts, culture and heritage
He confirmed that the building, the original Kippies built in 1987, would be used as an events space. The City will announce the building's management in the next few months.

Kippies, the jazz club named after Moeketsi, was closed down in 2005, after it was found to have had major structural flaws. The famous club moved down to the former Songwriters' Club in Quinn Street in 2006, but was closed again in 2008.

It has been refurbished in a joint operation between the City and the Gauteng provincial government. 

Moeketsi was born in 1925 and died destitute in 1983, at the age of 58.

Heritage project
The provincial department of sport, arts, culture and recreation launched its Local Heritage Project at the unveiling ceremony, which was attended by members of Moeketsi's family.

MEC Nelisiwe Mbatha-Mtimkulu said the department would use the project to identify heritage sites and turn them into public memorials. They included the Newtown cultural precinct, Sophiatown, Thokoza, Marabastad in the city of Tshwane, and Sharpville and Boipatong in the Vaal.

The province intended to identify at least 10 heritage sites each year in the next five years through the project.

"The memorials will mark specific places that had a relationship with important South African stories in an emotional way," she said. "[They] will be created to inspire us to reflect on where we've come from and where we hope to go."

Recording oral histories would be part of the project, Mbatha-Mtimkulu added.

Dorothy Masuku, who knew and performed with Moeketsi, performed at the ceremony, setting the stage ablaze with her timeless music. The Gauteng Jazz Orchestra and Sophiatown Sisters also entertained with their matured sounds.

"Kippies has a cultural significance. It's named after Moeketsi, a musician and cultural activist who left a legacy that needs to be preserved," said Neo January, the Gauteng manager of the South African Heritage Resources Agency.

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