daughter of a shoemaker overcame the odds. When challenges came her
way she beat them all and rose to the top.
harassment, unlawful arrests and assaults on innocent people in the
streets of Sophiatown, made those who were oppressed much stronger,
legendary singer Thandi Klaasen remembers. Klaasen was born and grew
up in Sophiatown. She said all races lived side by side, with no
racial discrimination. “People were happy and really enjoyed their
lives there. Then the previous government removed them to make room
for a white residential suburb,” she said. The township’s name was
changed to Triomf.
Klaasen had mixed fortunes when she was a teenager in Sophiatown. Her
life changed when her friend betrayed her by getting tsotsis to pour
thinners mixed with petrol on her face. This damaged her face
permanently and she spent almost a year in hospital. Her promising
singing career was nearly crushed as a result. “It was a blow to my
life, my family and my friends,” she said. “The pain was unbearable.”
Klaasen’s music talent was discovered when she was still a young girl
at primary school. She was inspired by Emily Kwenane, lead singer of
the local band, the Jazz Maniacs.
Klaasen said she was encouraged by the group’s performance when they
visited their school. She loved to watch them play.
Klaasen sang alongside greats like Miriam Makeba and Sophie Mngcina.
She formed a quartet to compete with the local popular male band of
the time, the Manhattan Brothers. “We proved that what men could do we
could do just as well,” she said.
In 1961, Klaasen travelled to London in the United Kingdom with King
Kong, the musical, for a nine months performance.
In February 2006, Sophiatown got its old name back. Klaasen said this
was an important occasion to reunite with old friends. Musicians like
Abigail Khubeka and trumpeter Hugh Masekela attended the celebrations.
Klaasen said South Africa was rich with young music talent that needed
exposure. She said she would like to work with young talented
musicians, including kwaito artists.
“I’m prepared to work with kwaito artists because their music is liked
by the young and old.” She appealed to them to support older musicians
because they had made it possible for the music industry to survive.