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The ups and downs of a simple man

I’m not a superstar I’m just a simple man But you know what Baby there I’m doing my thing Playing my guitar is a real nice feeling.

He is thin and he smiles a lot. And he calls himself a simple man.

If he really is a simple man, then all us simple men can stand up and smiIe – we are brave in spirit and strong of heart. Just like Monty “Saitana” Ndimande.

Saitana has had his ups. And he has been down – deep down in a dark hole. But he fights back. Every time.

Saitana fights back because he believes in something – something good. He believes in making people happy. And to do this, he uses music.

“I play music for the people,” says Saitana. “I mix African and Reggae Music. I know when my music is good. And I know when it is bad. When the people boo me, I know I am playing nonsense. When they cheer me, I know I am with them. And when the people are happy, I’m happy.”

Saitana’s ears first heard music when he was very young. “Every evening after supper, the whole family sat around the table,” says Saitana. “And we sang with our father. He had a big, big voice.”

“My first instrument was a penny­ whistle. It was the tune of Spokes Mashiane. Spokes and his penny­ whistle was famous. His shows were always full. Many kids in the ghetto wanted to play like Spokes. They wanted to see their names In the newspapers. They also wanted to hear their voices on the gramaphones and on the radio. They wanted to be famous.”

When Saitana did not become famous after a few months, he turned to the guitar. He made his own guitar from a petrol can and fishing wire.

His father heard him playing. And he Iiked what he heard. So he bought Saitana a guitar. Saitana was happy. He now had a real guitar. And he played aII the time. He got better and better.

Saitana went to school in Orlando West. But he did not do his school­ work very well. He thought about his guitar for most of the time.

“Man, I used to dodge school a lot,” says Saitana. “They had a high fence around the schoolyard. So I got myself a pair of pliers. I cut holes in the fence so I could escape. When the teachers found the hole, they fixed it. But I didn’t worry too much. I just took out my pliers and cut another hole.

At school Saitana met other kids who aIso loved music. “There were guys like Selby Ntuli and Arthur somebody. I can’t remember his surname,” says Saitana. “They started a band and called themselves “The Beaters”. My brother Victor played for the band.”

But the Beaters did not want Saitana to join them. They did not want him because he played Mbaqanga. And at that time, the people In the townships like soul music.

But Saitana did not worry. He did his own thing. “In 1968 or 1969, I left school” says Saitana . “I wanted to play my music I didn’t want to worry about school.”

One day Saitana was waIking down a dusty street in Soweto. His guitar was hanging from his shouIder. A guy walked up to him and said his name was Saint. “Man, are you into music?” he asked Saitana. “Why don’t you start a band. If you do, I’ll take you to America.

Saitana went to the Beaters and told them about this guy called Saint. The Beaters got excited – and they asked Saitana to join them.

Saitana laughs when he remembers. “You see, Saint was not such a bad guy after all. We never went to America. But he kept the band together. “

After a while, the Beaters changed their name. They called themselves Harari. But Saitana soon left the band. He had his own ideas.

Now Saitana played and sang alone. He played at many concerts He always played his own songs. People came to see him from allover. They called him ‘Saitana – the one man orchestra’.

In 1976 Saitana made his first record. It was called ‘Baby Don’t Go”. He made his second record two years later. He called it “Jenakuru”. All the records were sold out. Saitana did not even get a record for himself.

Saitana made many good records. Mirriam Makeba even sang one of his songs. Things were going well. Saitana was becoming famous.

But in 1979 life changed for Saitana. It went from good to bad. And from bad to worse .

“I was driving this Kombi in White City,” says Saitana. “There were four of us. Then next to maMolethi’s shop, a speeding car came straight for us. I tried to get out of the way. But I couIdn’t – and our car smashed into a tree. I felt myself falling into a deep, dark hole.

Saitana and two passengers were hurt. A man in a car picked up Saitana. Before the man took Saitana to hospital, he went to tell his wife about the accident.

“When the man banged the door, I woke up. I was shocked and confused. I ran out of the car. I ran to the river and hid in the long grass.

“Something just snapped in my mind. That bang! I think-that’s what got me. I was a sick man from that time.”

They took Saitana to Baragwanath Hospital. But he got sicker. They then sent him to Sterkfontein Mental Hospital.

Saitana spent six months at Sterkfontein. But he does not remember much about Sterkfontein. “I only remember one thing,” he says with a laugh. “Those cats there smoked a lot of BB.”

When Saitana came out of hospital, people were not very nice to Saitana.

They whispered behind his back. They said he was mad. They said he was taking drugs.

But Saitana did not I isten to the peoples’ stories. He picked up his guitar again. And people came to listen – and they loved him again. Saitana was fighting back.

In 1979 Saitana went on tour allover South Africa. He went with other people like Kippie “Morolong” Moeketsi, Lionel Peterson, Abigail Kubeka and Makhene Sisters.

In Bloemfontein Saitana was a big hit. He played with aII his heart. He played alone on stage – just him and his guitar. The people loved him They stood up and clapped.

Then they went to play in Potgieters­rus. And then once again, Saitana met with trouble.

“We were playing at the Roman Catholic Church,” says Saitana. “Before the show, I was sitting out­ side the church hall. I was all alone. I sat and looked at this window. And then something just snapped in my mind.

“I stood up and waIked to the window. I kicked the window to pieces. Just like that.

Some guy saw what I did. He ran to his car to get a golf stick. Then he came for me. The priest came running and tried to stop him.

But that guy just came for me. He swung the stick and hit me. And then once again, I found myself in the dark hole. When I woke up, I only had one eye.

Saitana does not hate the man who hit him. He has no time for hate. As soon as Saitana left the hospital, he picked up his guitar again. And he began to play his way to the top again.

Saitana has just joined a new group. The group is called ‘Aza’. “Just wait” says Saitana. “By next year, we will be ready. Then you will know all about us!”

And so we leave Saitana – the brave, simple man who likes making people happy. He is on way up again. We hope he stays that way. Goodbye and good luck!


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