Google celebrates artistic output of composer and writer Todd Matshikiza

By CityLIfe Arts Writer

One of the country’s most renowned and celebrated composers and writers the late Todd Matshikiza was celebrated by Google on Monday for his artistic output.

“Today’s Doodle celebrates South African jazz pianist, composer, and journalist Todd Matshikiza and was illustrated by South Africa-based guest artist Keith Vlahakis. On this day in 1956, his commissioned cantata Uxolo (peace) was played by the orchestra at the 70th Johannesburg Festival,” the social Media platform said in a media statement released on Monday, 25, September 2023.

Matshikiza was born in Queenstown, South Africa, on March 7th, 1921. His mother, a singer, and his father, an organist, taught Matshikiza and his six siblings piano while they grew up. He attended St Peter’s College in Johannesburg and went on to earn his  music and teaching diplomas. Putting these degrees to work, he taught high school English and math and composed choral works and songs such as Hamba Kahle.

In 1947, Matshikiza moved back to Johannesburg, where he taught and eventually established his own private school, the Todd Matshikiza School of Music. He taught piano, his forte being jazz music. During much of this time, he was in the Syndicate of African Artists, which aimed to spread music and concerts to the whole country.

Matshikiza’s passion for jazz music and journalism came together when he became one of the first writers at Drum magazine. He wrote a column about the artistry and evolution of jazz and one on township life called With the Lid Off. Several of his articles from the latter column are immortalized in the book With the Lid Off: South African Insights from Home and Abroad 1959-2000

As a composer, he is most famous for his work on the song Quickly in Love, which plays in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and the score for two theatrical productions, King King and Mkhumbane. The all-Black jazz musical King Kong premiered in 1958 and was a smash hit, spreading as far as London. The musical Mkhumbane (1960) with compositions by Matshikiza and Alan Paton was equally powerful, but the political and satirical commentary about the Black experience in Cato Manor in the 1950s limited its popularity. 

He played piano, was a freelance journalist, and presented radio programs in London for a few years before moving to Zambia, where he worked as a broadcaster and a music archivist. His story lives on through his autobiography Chocolates for My Wife (1961), which describes apartheid in South Africa and his move to London. 

Thank you for sharing your compositions, piano skills, music critiques, and story with the world, Todd Matshikiza.

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