Dorothy Masuka – South Africa´s Grand Lady
Equally at home in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Dorothy Masuka is not only one of the most important singers of the generation of Miriam Makeba, but has for decades also been a talented songwriter whose pen, for example, produced Makeba´s hit “Pata Pata”.Dorothy Masuka was born in what was back then South Rhodesian Bulawago in 1935 and lives in Yeoville/ Johannesburg today.
Together with Dolly Rathebe and Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuka is the third great singer to appear in the milieu of South Africa´s black music scene in the late forties and the fifties, an era seen today as the golden age of Township Jazz. She was born in what is today Zimbabwe, and her parents came from South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). At the age of ten she went to a Catholic mission school in Johannesburg. She soon became the leader of the school choir. In a small Chinese shop next to the boarding school there was a juke box through which Dorothy Masuka discovered North American Swing music and singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan.
Dorothy Masuka was herself discovered as a sixteen year-old by the record company Troubadour, and a short time later went on a tour throughout South Africa with the famous band African Inkspots and began to write her own songs, among them hits like “Pata Pata”. It was not only the concert organisers who were clamouring for her but also the photographers. She was photographed countless times for the legendary magazine Drum, for example.
It was in 1957 that she first came into conflict with the regime, because of a song about the apartheid minister Malan, and the record had to be withdrawn from the market. In 1961, after the censors had banned her song ”Lumumba”, about the recently murdered Congolese politician, and confiscated all the records including the master tape, Dorothy Masuka returned to Bulawayo, for she had been declared persona non grata in South Africa, something which was not to be reversed until 31 years later. Four years later she also fell out with the Southern Rhodesian authorities and was only able to avoid arrest by fleeing to Zambia, by then independent. She spent the following sixteen years in exile, there as well as in Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania lost her husband and two sons, who belonged to the militant wing of the ANC, and was only able to return to Bulawayo after the independence of Zimbabwe, where she continued her temporarily interrupted musical career. Eleven years later, in 1992, she was also finally able to return to South Africa, where she lives and works today. For, as she says it: "To stay alive I have to sing."
Almost all the successful South African singers from Miriam Makeba to Letta Mbulu are deeply indebted to Dorothy Masuka´s art, have learned from her, worked with her and been influenced by her. Hugh Masekela, who has many Dorothy Masuka songs in his repertoire, says of her: "Her talent and her courage have always impressed me. For me she is one of the best artists of our generation!"
Dorothy Masuka was born on 3 September 1935 in Bulawayo in what was then still Southern Rhodesia, and lives today in Yeoville/Johannesburg.