Todd Matshikiza, a jazz pianist, composer, and journalist from South Africa, is honoured in today’s Google Doodle, which was illustrated by a guest artist from that country named Keith Vlahakis. On this day in 1956, the orchestra at the 70th Johannesburg Festival performed his specially commissioned cantata Uxolo (peace).
On March 7th, 1921, Matshikiza was born in Queenstown, South Africa. Piano lessons were provided for Matshikiza and his six siblings by their mother, a singer, and their father, an organist. He studied at St. Peter’s College in Johannesburg, where he later received teaching and music degrees. He used these degrees to teach high school English and math while also writing choral works and songs like Hamba Kahle.
The Todd Matshikiza School of Music was the private institution Matshikiza eventually founded after returning to Johannesburg in 1947. His speciality was jazz music, and he taught piano. He spent a good deal of this time as a member of the Syndicate of African Artists, an organisation that promoted concerts and music throughout the country.
When Matshikiza joined the Drum magazine staff as one of the original writers, his love for jazz music and journalism converged. He also published a piece called With the Lid Off that discussed township life as well as the artistry and development of jazz. The book With the Lid Off: South African Insights from Home and Abroad 1959-2000 contains a number of the essays he wrote for the later column.
He gained fame as a composer for two theatrical works, King King and Mkhumbane, as well as the song Quickly in Love, which appears in the 2013 movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. King Kong, an all-Black jazz musical, made its debut in 1958 and quickly became a great sensation, touring as far as London. Mkhumbane, a 1960 musical featuring songs by Matshikiza and Alan Paton, had equally potent music, but its appeal was constrained by its political and satirical commentary on the Black experience in Cato Manor in the 1950s.
Before relocating to Zambia, where he worked as a broadcaster and a music archivist, he spent a few years in London as a pianist, freelance journalist, and radio programme host. His autobiography, Chocolates for My Wife (1961), which discusses the apartheid in South Africa and his relocation to London, preserves his life’s tale.
Thank you, Todd Matshikiza, for enlightening the world with your compositions, piano skills, music critiques, and life story.
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