From jazz to deep house
A blog by Wandisile Sebezo
From jazz to deep house
Skhulu’z Lounge in Kwanokhutula is one of Plett’s oldest running music cafés. Wandisile Sebezo chats to founder Amos “Skhulu” Noyi about the beginnings in Bossiesgif and the move from jazz to modern music genres.
It was easy for me to strike a conversation with formidable Plett businessman and jazz enthusiast, Amos “Skhulu” Noyi (69), who owns what was called ‘Schoolboy’s Jazz Café’ and later ‘Skhulu’z Lounge’; partly because over the years, as a jazz enthusiast myself and as someone who fancies a drink from time to time, I found myself a place to chill. Safe to say, we know each other that way.
“Old timers and jazz lovers got swag”, I said to myself as I arrived at his house. All jazz fanatics have that thing when it comes to how they dress, for they dress to kill!
His daughter, Mathapelo, stresses that her dad “believes in class and sophistication”, what choice do they have though – after all, jazz is the indomitable noble sound.
I learned that he used to own a soccer club back in the day, and he named it School Boys, and that’s where the name of the Café came from. “Education and sophistication is what he thought and preached to young people”, Mathapelo said.
Skhulu’z is situated on Kwano’s main street; one cannot miss it, easily accessible from the N2 and not far from the CBD. Just opposite Skhulu’z lies a vast piece of unused land where once there was a popular Tshisa’Nyama, which now provides for a decent and safe parking space, which also on occasion, can be used for carnivals and such like events.
I asked the old man, “when did all this start?” He tells me it all started when he left his Administrative Clerk post at LTA, the construction company, to start Schoolboy Jazz Café. He said it opened around the beginning of the 1990s. He was inspired to start the Café because “black people had no place of their own to have a good time, especially in the township of Bossiesgif”, which is where it first opened its doors.
Initially he sold liquor to his friends, and the business grew from there; later it attracted the black middle class, thanks to jazz, and from time to time they were joined by their white counterparts. He remembers one of his friends, Dinah Eppel, whom we all know very fondly, a long time Plett resident herself, who found a friend in Ta Skhulu, and a haven in the Café. She has since moved and now stays in America. Some guests who frequented the Café used to come from as far away as the Johannesburg Market Theatre, an independent and non-racial theatre during the country’s apartheid regime.
The times were tough, he tells me. They had no electricity, and relied only on gas, but none of that seemed to have derailed him. In 1995, as most people moved from Bossiesgif to Kwano to rebuild and settle, so did the Noyis, also moving their business to Kwano. And this is the time the business got to operate legally. He tells me he struggled to get a permit to operate prior to 1995. When one talks about Schoolboy Jazz Café, you can’t help but feel as though you’re talking about a part of the history of the peoples of Kwano, Qolweni and Bossiesgif combined; it’s a revered social space, if not the only one in Kwano, although I may be a little bit biased here!
I asked him what’s the secret ingredient that help sustain the business over the years, “Jazz” he tells me. “I had music that I had, a Jazz collection, and I then decided to play it for the people, and then I saw that they love it, so I kept going”. Although they didn’t have live jazz bands, people nonetheless enjoyed the jazz records he played for them, and he has quite the collection to this day – one can spot some of the vinyls which are now used as decorations in the lounge.
They also served African food back then. Unfortunately they no longer offer that part of the service, and as a patron myself, I know from experience how good a cook Ta Skhulu’s wife is. One of the sons, Tsidiso assures me that on special occasions and on request, she’ll cook up a storm for you.
Ta Skhulu tells me he has no regrets, and he seemed relieved that he never had trouble from the community and from the law.
Ta Skhulu is married and has three children. Daughter Mathaphelo now lives in Nelson Mandela Bay, and two sons, Lebohang and Tsidiso, who are now running the business.
Having been a member of the middle class since his time as an Administrative Clerk at LTA and now a Café owner, he was able to send all his children to university, fruits of hard work and perfect business acumen I’d say.
Now that he has handed over to his two sons to run the business, I ask whether he’s worried that jazz is no longer as frequently played as it was during his time as the captain of the ship, he says that he “insists they mix jazz” whenever they play their preferred music, which is deep house.
Tsidiso defends this move by saying “we haven’t drifted away from it (jazz) because the music we play now has some jazz elements”. He tells me he’s not bothered though, “because the times have changed”, and consequence to changing times, the lounge is seeing a much younger techno-savvy clientele.
Well, the baton has been handed over to the sons, Lebohang and Tsidiso, much has changed, from the name change, to the shift of music genre – that is from jazz to deep house, to the kind of clientele the Lounge now serves; this team of two brothers seems determined to carry on with the legacy, even though tactics and strategy differs to that of the old Timer.
Perhaps as a result of changing tactics and strategy, soccer and supporter’s clubs also find comfort in holding their meetings here, including pre and after match parties. Restaurants and hotels also spoil their staff at Skhulu’z, the latest this year being The Plettenberg Hotel a few weeks ago.
I myself hosted a talk show a few months back, at the backdrop of the Knysna Literary Festival, where Skhulu’z helped me host one of South Africa’s successful authors and talk radio host from Jo’burg’s Power FM, JJ Tabane, and I am happy to report that it was a success. There’s nothing wrong with diversifying I suppose.
No doubt Skhulu’z Lounge is part of the fabric of the community of Plett, and its destiny seems to be intertwined with Plett’s people at large. It’s one of the historic social places we should celebrate more, for it also serves as a cultural centre for interesting conversations, music, food and entertainment at large. Wear your Dashiki this heritage month and rock up to Skhulu’z Lounge and share the rich history this jazz spot enjoys.