Home » Arts & Culture » Long Live Great Aunty Dot

Dorothy Masuku, who is probably Zimbabwe’s oldest female musician still alive today, turns 80 in September, this year.

She is at the moment based in South Africa where she is still busy giving performances in clubs and at jazz festivals. If she was in an ordinary job, she would have long qualified for an old age pension.

Former Zi-FM radio DJ and jazz fanatic Munya Simango of Harare Jazz Festival tells me that Dorothy’s turning 80 is an occasion worth celebrating. A special tribute concert has thus been lined up for this year. Together with other jazz artistes, Dorothy will be on stage to give a magnificent concert. Those of us who have seen her perform in the past know that they are in for a treat. Her voice is so sweet and mellow that it could calm 10 or more deadly storms and even more violent hurricanes.

Last year in September, there was an anticipated Harare Jazz Festival featuring Dorothy Masuku, Hugh Masekela, Kunle Ayo, Judith Sephuma and many others which had been scheduled for Belgravia Sports Club. For some unknown reason the show was cancelled much to the disappointment of many jazz fans. We hope that the anticipated jazz festival this year will take off.

Zimbabwe’s popular music began around the 1950s. Very few Zimbabwean women took to the stage in those day . . . One had to be very brave to do that. One such example is none other than Dorothy Masuku.

Singersongwriter Dorothy Masuku, popularly known as “Auntie Dot”, was born in Bulawayo on September 3, 1935. Zimbabwe at that time was called Southern Rhodesia. Her father was originally from Zambia and he worked as a chef at a hotel in Bulawayo. Her mother was Zulu. Dorothy was the fourth of seven children.

At the age of 12, she and her family moved to South Africa where she attended school at a Catholic school in Johannesburg. Soon, her talent as a singer was spotted during school concerts. She fell in love with jazz music as well as South African kwela and marabi music. At one time when Dorothy was only 16, she ran away from her boarding school to join Philemon Magotsi’s band called African Ink Spots. Her school and her parents were upset by this move as they wanted her to continue with school, but she went back for a short while and then left again for Bulawayo where she pursued her career as a singer. It was on her way back to Johannesburg that she penned the hit song “HambaNotsokolo”.

At the age of 19 she was invited to audition for Troubador Record Company in South Africa and she was successful. That became the first rung for her ladder to fame as she was soon to join another popular female singer known as Dolly Rathebe.

At the age of 20, she joined a black musical revue in South Africa, which included the famous Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. They called themselves African Jazz and Variety. This is the period when Dorothy wrote many hit songs such as “PataPata” and “Kulala”,”Khauleza”, “Khuteni Zulu” and “NdizuluZuleGoli” and Makeba is known to have used some of these hits in her later recordings and performances.

Masuku’s music became very popular in South Africa throughout the 1950s, but when the songs became more serious the South African apartheid government began to question her. Her song “Dr Malan” was banned by the authorities. In 1961, while in Bulawayo, she also wrote a song for Patrice Lumumba who was a political activist in the Congo. It was this song which forced her into exile when the Special Branch in Bulawayo aised her not to return to Southern Rhodesia. Dorothy fled to Malawi and then to Tanzania between 1961 and 1965. In 1965, she went back to Bulawayo, but had to flee again, this time into Zambia where she met fellow Zimbabweans,SimangalisoTuthani Chris Chabuka and Andrew Chakanyuka who had formed the Broadway Quartet band. She stayed in Zambia until Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. In 1982 she went back to Johannesburg where she released the album “MaGumede”. She returned to Zimbabwe and did some more recordings of songs such as “Nhingirikiri” and “Gona raMachingura” in the late 1980s. These became instant hits in Zimbabwe. In 2001 she released “Mzilikazi” and followed this up with a tour of London and New York accompanied by the Mahotella Queens in 2002.

In 2002 when she toured England, she had audiences sweating and panting at the jam-packed venues in cities such as London, Manchester, Coventry, Bristol and Birmingham. She has appeared on English radio and television programmes such as the “Big World Cafeacute”. Global Beat Box, Charlie Gillet’s Capital Radio Show, Women’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, Jazz F.M., BBC African Service, and Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio 1 Show. Jo Shinner’s show on Greater London Radio and many other shows.

When she toured Europe the same year, European audiences were treated to nights to remember by this charismatic female African artiste. One promoter who had hired her to perform at the Milkweg in Amsterdam and at the Nijmegen Music Centre confessed that at first he was scared of bringing Miss Masuku to these venues which are often frequented by youngsters aged between 18 and 30. He said he thought he was taking a big risk by presenting this rather oldish African singer to hip-hop fans in the Netherlands, but he was wrong. The kids loved it. The promoter then took her to Switzerland where she performed at the Dolce Vita where he was also scared that his teenage Swiss audience would walk out. No! They loved it. Although she is a jazz musician, she studies her audiences well. At one of the concerts, she sang Elvis Presley’s rock n’ roll song, “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog, Barking All The Time” and crossed over in a medley to “Que Sera Sera”. The young audience just loved it. They did not expect that to come from an African female singer who had been aertised as a jazz artiste.

Dorothy has travelled extensively throughout the world, thrilling those fortunate enough to catch her performances. She is received in many African countries by Heads of State and loved by the people as one of Africa’s greatest female performing artistes. She has toured extensively in the African continent and has been able to deliver her songs in the different languages of each country she performs in. She speaks Shona, Ndebele, Zulu, English, Swahili, Nyanja, Lozi and Bemba, to mention only a few of the languages at her fingertips.

In Africa, she is claimed by many nations. The South Africans think that Dorothy is theirs because she went to school there from the age of 12 and she speaks Zulu. The Zambians also want to own her because, although born in Zimbabwe, her father was Zambian and she later spent a great part of her life in Zambia where she practised the Bemba she learned from her father. However, Dorothy will tell you that it is Zimbabwe, the country of her birth, where she has her deepest roots. This explains why she kept running back to Bulawayo even during her school days. Her Shona and Ndebele songs such as “Nhingirikiri” and “Khauleza” are there to prove it. But who knows? With a Zambian father and a Zulu mother,she could be torn between African nations.

The important thing, however, is the fact that she continues to thrill a lot of us, be it Zimbabweans, Zambians or South Africans. Happy 80th Auntie Dot.

Source : The Herald

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