Peter Nthwane and The Struggle for Authenticity

“It pleases me to think that the art of [Jazz] came into the world as the echo of God’s laughter.” ~ Milan Kundera.

Thursday, 17 November 2016, the Sand du Plessis theatre housed hundreds for the memorial service of Free State’s finest vessel of God’s laughter Peter Nthwane. His life was celebrated with plenty of music, obviously and deservedly. God was tickled to come nice by the Free State Ensemble; and I learnt that Peter had more than a hand in turning this group of talented musicians into a formidable force. Most apparent of his works were the horns quartet, you could discern his touch with their every note. The horn was after all his favourite tickle; together with his voice. On the latter front again came a young man on stage who raised Peter from the dead; the MC could not but hide her excitement in announcing that Peter is dead no more. Still on the voice I believe Mangaung might yet have a crooner in John Paka; he ably led the vocal section on the rendition of Sankomota’s “Now Or Never”.

The rendition of Nthwanes “Ha Re Khutleleng Setsong” had to be cut short as it hit the trio of ladies leading hard and they could not hold back their tears. The Ensemble then switched to a classic Nthwane jovial song, the three ladies wiped off their tears and got down like seasoned professionals they are. We heard that Nthwane once performed a full 45mins set on the brink of death; he collapsed immediately after it was done and was rushed to hospital due to HBP. Clearly Nthwane had imparted his sense of dedication – of kudelakufa – on his students.

That though was not the only story we heard; it is no secret that our people have the gift of the gab. Various speakers took to the podium to beguile us with the lives (not life) and times of Peter “Spoko” Nthwane and Peter Nthwane – the man and the legend. Mangaung’s veteran journalist Flaxman Qopane was one of those who took to the stage and relayed the tribute lucidly and chronologically in his idiosyncratic manner throwing in heretofore unknown tantalising titbits.

The Speaker of the Free State Legislature, Mamiki Qabathe, had a few words to say about Peter’s no-nonsense taking fighting spirit. The HOD for the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Adv. Tsoarelo Malakoane – a contemporary of Peter in the early days, echoed this leitmotif. The two men credited with Peter’s rise to the top, former Pacofs CEO Dr. Nathan Bagarette and former Lesedi FM station manager Pula Pula Mothibi, cemented the living memory of Peter’s hustler credentials in their humble admission that they were but cogs in the Peter Nthwane grinding machine. And he died hustling, Dr Bagarette informed us of their work to get Peter on the roster for next year’s Cape Town Jazz Festival.

All the luminaries who spoke urged the current generation of Free State artists to take a leaf from Peter’s book, none more so than the tenacity and artistry he’s so well remembered for. Mr Mothibi begged Free State artists to stop looking north (Gauteng) and make use of what is available and to be availed (as the HOD enumerated the programs the department is undertaking to grow the music industry in Free State) to record their true voices and not be mere caricatures of Gauteng or American artists. Peter did it – he never made the treacherous trek to Egoli, he sang his people’s experiences, he infused the local Famo sounds with Jazz and dressed like an ordinary Vrystaat kleva. And given that he is the most successful artist out of the Free State; that surely is a template to follow. Diversify the airwaves, Mothibi urged the local artists.

The most potent plea came from Peter’s own manager and protégé Khahliso Pitso, for Peter to be honoured and his legacy celebrated; he announced plans afoot to establish a trust fund in the muso’s name to help groom artists as Peter had done throughout his life and an annual tribute concert – to which the HOD committed the Department.

Another way to honour him, to monumentalise our privilege of having borne witness to his echoing of God’s laughter – if I may opine – would be to name the theatre he was remembered in, that he recorded his live DVD in, after him. Indeed, Peter Nthwane Theatre has a nice ring to it – the flagship theatre of the Free State named after one of its most prominent sons.

For now, we all have the music – the heathen amongst us can already imagine the fire breather rousing heaven into action admonishing the black god with ‘ha o batle ho sebetsa!’ For many who attended and will attend the memorial service and funeral, we have the legends. For a lucky few, they have the intimate memories; laughter shared, fights quelled, and even stab wounds. Peter Nthwane reminds us once again that immortality is possible for whatever happens he will be remembered forever. He will be echoed for many moons to come. We must take a step back to acknowledge our privilege; we were never worthy of him.

LONG LIVE PETER NTHWANE LIVE LONG!

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