South Africa recently paid tribute to the legacy of the iconic jazz pianist, composer, and journalist, Todd Matshikiza. A beautifully crafted Google Doodle, designed by guest artist Keith Vlahakis, was unveiled to mark the day Matshikiza’s renowned cantata ‘Uxolo’ (translating to “peace”) was performed at the Johannesburg Festival in 1956.
Born in Queenstown on March 7, 1921, Matshikiza’s passion for music was evident from a young age. With both parents being musically inclined, Todd and his six siblings were introduced to the world of music early on. His mother, a talented singer, and his father, an organist, ensured that music was an integral part of their upbringing.
After obtaining his music and teaching diplomas from St. Peter’s College in Johannesburg, Matshikiza showcased his versatility by teaching subjects like English and Math in high school. Simultaneously, he composed notable choral works, with ‘Hamba Kahle’ being one of his most celebrated pieces.
In 1947, Matshikiza’s commitment to music led him to establish the Todd Matshikiza School of Music in Johannesburg. He also became an integral member of the Syndicate of African Artists, an organization dedicated to promoting music and live concerts throughout South Africa.
Matshikiza’s talents weren’t limited to music. He seamlessly blended his love for jazz with journalism, becoming one of the pioneering writers for the esteemed Drum magazine. His writings provided insights into the world of jazz and offered a candid look into township life. Many of his articles have been compiled in the book ‘With the Lid Off: South African Insights from Home and Abroad 1959-2000’.
His contributions to the arts extended to the cinematic and theater realms. His composition ‘Quickly in Love’ found its way into the 2013 film ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’. Additionally, he composed scores for theatrical hits like ‘King Kong’ and ‘Mkhumbane’.
Matshikiza’s influence reached beyond South Africa. In London, he made a name for himself as a pianist, journalist, and radio host. Later in life, he moved to Zambia, where he continued his work as a broadcaster and music archivist.
His autobiography, ‘Chocolates for My Wife’, provides a poignant account of his experiences, from the challenges of apartheid in South Africa to his time in London.
Today, as the world commemorates Todd Matshikiza, his melodies, writings, and enduring spirit continue to inspire and resonate with many.