Funeral ’fit for a king’ for pianist Roger Khoza

Kholisile Roger Khoza

Fanie Jason

Kholisile Roger Khoza who was born in Kimberley on February 2 in 1947, died peacefully on Sunday June 27 of diabetes-related illness.

Roger came to Cape Town in the early 1960s and worked, for many years, at a company that produced the Singer sewing machines.

Because of his love for music he decided to pursue his passion and become a full-time musician.

Roger had started playing piano at a young age, having been inspired by family members who played the instrument.

As he pursued his musical career he met Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi with whom he collaborated on the masterpiece Yakha’l Inkomo .

Roger played in a group formed by Mankunku called the Cliffs. They rehearsed at Bra Ben Office’s place in NY 137, and Roger later went on to formed his own group called Ghetto. When that group split, he joined a group called Afrika, which was formed by the late Bra Joshua Sithole.

After that group split as Bra Josh focused on his solo career, Roger join a well-known group called Skyf, just before he left for Namibia where he spent a couple of years touring with his band.

While I was in Namibia covering their Independence Day in 1990, Roger’s band was performing in front of visiting heads of states at the stadium in Windhoek.

After Roger left Namibia he relocated to Johannesburg in search of greener pastures. There he performed with the who’s who of jazz and by that time Roger had become a renowned pianist and composer. And he always played his own music. He never compromised on that.

Roger was never scared to share his skills and knowledge with younger musicians and would always remind me of the role Ben Office played in the lives of jazz musicians in the township of Gugulethu. Even the late Mankuku would always talk about the contributions of Bra Ben.

Roger once told me how the police would raid people in the townships for passes and Ben would open Ikhwezi Community Centre early to protect people like him against the harsh pass laws.

He would remind me that in the 1960s no black man or woman was allowed to be a full-time artist, because you needed a stamp in your pass to prove that you worked for some white own company.

Ben who was an administrator at the community centre at the time, used his position and influence to shield full-time artists like Roger and many others against the Apartheid regime.

Ben Office is still alive today in Gugulethu , but his heroic deeds went undocumented and unrecognised.

People like the late Roger and Mankunku, however, always remembered him for his contributions to the jazz fraternity.

Under Bra Ben Office, Gugulethu became the Mecca of jazz in the townships, where Abdullah Ibrahim use to play, as did the late Martin Gijima, Max Diamani, David Bhala, Don Tshomela and many others. The place was buzzing.

This past weekend Roger had a funeral fit for an icon of his status. The younger musicians came out in their numbers to bury a renowned and respected icon.

While Roger, a well respected piano player, may have died broke financially, he left behind a rich legacy.

Most of the people Roger played with have passed on but every young musician was at pains to explain to me how the late Bra Roger had unselfishly shared his skill and knowledge. So they made it their duty to make sure Bra Roger had a dignified send-off.

Everybody observed the Covid-19 regulations but the music played at that funeral made even the most staunch and religious person get up on their feet and dance.

Long live the spirit of Bra Roger Khoza.