COSATU’s Third National Congress in July was a good congress. Workers came out of the meeting united as never before. But it was hard work. It had been a long week of serious discussions, debates, resolutions… and more resolutions.
On the Sunday — the last day of the Congress — it was a group of very tired comrades who sat in the hall waiting to relax and enjoy a festival of culture. Suddenly, seven young musicians jumped onto the stage, bursting with energy.
They picked up their instruments and started tuning up. The guitarists were adjusting their strings … the keyboard players’ fingers were doing little tap-dances over the black and white keys … the heavy drums were beginning to shake the hall… the soulful sounds of the saxophone were echoing through the great hall…
A tall thin young man was walking around the stage, a microphone in his hand. “One, two — one, two — check!” he was saying to the people checking the sound. Then he lifted his hand, and dead silence fell in the hall. He looked at the tired, sleepy audience, raised his fist and shouted: “Forward with the people’s culture!” The audience woke up. “Forward!” they shouted back, fists up in the air.
Then the tall musician broke into song. Within seconds, his powerful voice was joined by the other instruments. Was it Sakhile, Bayete or the Malopoets? No — the sounds and the rhythms belonged to Peto, a band from Cape Town.
Soon everyone was on their feet, dancing and clicking their fingers. No one could stop their feet from moving as the sound of Peto’s music filled the hall. The band played until their fingers were tired and their voices were cracking. Long after they had finished, the audience was still clapping loudly and shouting for more.
A NEW DAY DAWNS …
The tall thin young man was Ringo Mandlingozi, the lead singer of the group. Ringo told Learn and Teach how Peto came to be. “Before Peto was formed, we belonged to a band called Ikhwezi. The name, Ikhwezi, was taken from the Xhosa word for ‘the morning star’.
“Ikhwezi did not last long. The band had too many problems — especially money. We also did not have enough instruments. So we split in 1985.”
After Ikhwezi broke up, two of its members, Herbie Tsoaedi and Mxolisi Mayekana, looked for other ways of playing the music they loved. They decided to take up music lessons through the Jazz Workshop in Cape Town. Herbie trained as a base guitarist, and Mxolisi as a lead guitarist. And this is how the two met keyboard player Alan Cameron, one of the founding members of the group.
“Alan listened to our style. Our fingers did their magic on the strings. He invited us to his cottage and we talked about forming a new band. We told him about our friends and asked him to invite them too,” says Ringo.
“When we agreed to form a band, it was as if the morning star had faded away and a new and brighter day was beginning. We decided to call ourselves ‘Peto’, which is Cape Town slang for ‘a friend’. We saw ourselves as each other’s friends and also as friends of the people.”
Why Cape Town slang? “Well,” says the light-fingered Cyril Ngcukana, Peto’s other keyboard player, “we wanted to take our band’s name from the language spoken by the oppressed people to show that our music would speak their language.
“We believe that our music must come from the conditions the people are living in. This means that our music must always show the hardships our people are going through. And it should not end there — it must also offer them some ideas about how to overcome their problems.”
Chris Tokalon, Peto’s saxophonist, adds to what Cyril was saying. “We believe that music is the great healer. Our music will heal the situation we have to live with. It is the language of love and peace.”
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Most of the time, Peto’s many friends go wild for the band’s music. But there have been one or two times when Peto discovered that the audience were no friends of theirs. Like the time Peto was invited to play in Pretoria ….
Ringo laughs and begins to tell the story. “Some time ago we went to Pretoria to play. But when we started singing our song ‘Khaya’ — the Xhosa word for home — all hell broke loose. “
This song says home is where the heart is. We try to understand the feelings of those people who are forced into exile for the sake of our freedom. Well, as we were singing this song, a group of men in the audience organised themselves into two groups. They started singing troopie songs, praising the SADF.
“When we saw what was happening, I told the audience that we were going to take a ten minute break. One of the guys who was singing his army love songs shouted at us that we should take a break forever. And we did — we left and never went back.”
But worse still than unfriendly audiences are some of the record companies. “They tell us — and other groups like us — that our music ‘won’t sell’,” says Chris. “This ‘won’t sell’ thinking forces musicians to make songs that do not have meaning. What the record companies want is a lot of noise and two meaningless lines to sing. Only those musicians who love money more than real music make these kinds of records.”
THE ROAD TO FAME
Peto can be proud that they have not given in to the record companies. And prouder still that they have managed to reach success. In 1986, they took part in the “Shell Road to Fame” competition which they won with their song “Goloza”, composed by group member Mxolisi Mayekana.
Last year, Peto won the “Autumn Harvest Award” as the best up-and-coming group in the music industry. And they also released their first album called “Khaya”.
The group has also played in an international music festival held in Swaziland, sharing the stage with such giants as Eric Clapton and Joan Armatrading.
Herbie Tsoaedi, the group’s base guitarist, remembers the concert with a smile. “It was an honour for us to share the stage with such great musicians,” he says. “It was also important because people from all over the world now know about Peto.”
A BAND OF THE PEOPLE
But through all these honours, Peto has not forgotten the people. “To show that we are part of the community,” says Herbie, “we take part in cultural festivals. We play for free in these festivals because we believe that before we are musicians, we are part of our communities. But at the same time, we organise to play in gigs and night clubs around town to raise funds.”
Ringo told us why they took part in the COSATU Cultural Festival. “We see ourselves as cultural workers and our band belongs to the people. So what-ever the workers’ movement is doing, we will follow. Both cultural workers and industrial workers are faced with the same enemies — apartheid and the companies that exploit workers.”
Peto has also played for free in many other festivals organised by democratic organisations. They played in the Johannesburg Youth Congress (JOYCO) Cultural Festival in June this year.
The festival was organised to celebrate the 34th birthday of the Freedom Charter. “We wanted to celebrate this day because we share the demands of the Freedom Charter that the doors of learning and culture be opened to all,” says the talented Percy Kunene, Peto’s drummer.
The group has also shared the stage with the poet Mzwakhe Mbuli and the play “Inyanga” in a festival organised by the Federation of Transvaal Women (Fedtraw) to mark “Women’s Day” — the day in 1956 when more than 20 000 women marched to Pretoria in protest against the pass laws.
Ringo gave their reasons for playing in these festivals organised by people’s organisations. “We believe that Peto has to be part of the freedom struggle. And that is why we have joined the Cape Town regional organisation for musicians called the Musicians’ Alliance for People’s Power (MAPP). This organisation falls under the national body, the South African Musicians’ Alliance (SAMA).”
Learn and Teach asked the members of Peto if they had a special message for our readers. They looked at each other, smiled and said: “Sure! The best is still to come from your people’s band. Our music, with its language of peace and justice, will keep on trying to heal the situation we live in. Peto loves you all!”
NEW WORDS resolution — a decision taken by voting at a meeting gigs — a performance by musicians meaningless — without meaning or sense