Classic cars as jazz classics

By Mxolisi Mhlongo

Think of the atmosphere Sophiatown had on a Sunday afternoon with your typical “Bra Sipho” leaning on his Six Mabone car listening to Winston Mankunku’s Inkomo. Cars have always had an influence in the culture of jazz in townships and we are going to take a drive down memory lane and look at some of the classic cars that you’ll still find our grandfathers and uncles driving to date.

Six Mabone

This is a nickname that was given to the 1965 Chevrolet Impala that had six tail lights as compared to it predecessors. American cars were cool to have back in the day and a car that had six lights basically meant you were really cool.  The Six Mabone was very special as it had songs written about and named after it. Artists told stories about the car through music (jazz) paintings and poems. Infusing the legend around the car and the culture of jazz back in the day is evidence that this vehicle has to be on top of the list of classic cars that we can refer to as jazz classics.

Zola Budd

This car was named after the South African middle-distance and long-distance runner Zola Pieterse. She became famous for her running in the 1980’s and had people in the townships nickname the Toyota Hi-Ace minibus taxi after her. This was because of the speed and longevity it possessed as compared to its predecessors. This is when the term “iBhasi” came about as it was used for transporting people to parties and jazz events at a time when jazz music was at its epitome in South Africa.

Sandla Semfene

Isandla Semfene means ‘baboon hand’ when loosely translated. The name derived from the contorted wrist angle which needed to hook the gear shifter down and over. Any car with a dog-leg first gear transmission was referred to as Isandla semfene. These were seen as exclusive an elegant and men who drove these were usually very stylish and pretty much jazz listeners.

There are many cars that can be associated to jazz as classics, cars such as the 1965 Mercedes-Benz W109 series which had six lights or the 1958 Rambler 6 Deluxe. The ones that we’ve listed played a significant role between the 1960’s and 1980’s jazz era in South Africa.

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