August 20 1998

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Sakolsky tunes in to SA

Ron Sakolsky, visiting American music academic, sets out to capture the beat

Ron Sakolsky is an academic, journalist and activist whose main interest is the cultural politics of music. He’s not a serious musician although he “dabbles” in several instruments.

Sakolsky is visiting South Africa until the end of the year. While he is here he plans to interview Mzwakhe Mbuli in jail to talk about his music and poetry for Beat magazine. He wants to rally support for his case and says: “Mbuli appears to have been framed.”

He is also engaged in some “detective work” for American folk musician Pete Seeger. Seeger popularised a song called Abiyoyo which originally comes from South Africa and is believed to have Xhosa roots. Sakolsky has visited the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown to find documentation which might lead him to the people connected to the original song so that some of the royalties can be returned to fund a grassroots project.

Sakolsky has listened to tapes from the Forties and is now planning to visit the SABC radio banks in both Durban and Johannesburg in his quest. Seeger is also the musician who popularised Wimoweh in the Fifties, a song by Solomon Linda. Years later he decided to find the writer to share the royalities. When he discovered that Linda had died, he gave the money to Linda’s widow.

Seeger is one of the few Western musicians who has shown this kind of respect for those who originated the music they use.

Sakolsky is the author (with Fred Ho, a Chinese American who has a jazz band called the Afro-Asian Ensemble) of Sounding Off, a book about music as resistance and revolution. His latest book Seizing the Airwaves (co-authored with Stephen Dunifer) is about low-watt radio community stations in the US which are illegal.

“They are not clandestine stations, they just can’t afford access to the airwaves,” he says, adding that they use between one and 50 watts to broadcast. A court case is currently under way involving the constitutional right of these stations to free expression.

Sakolsky will also be writing articles on Andrew Tracey, director of the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown, and on kwaito, a music form almost unknown to Americans.


Travelling "musician": Academic, journalist and activist Ron Sakolsky PHOTOGRAPH: JEEVA RAJGOPAUL

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