Gentle giant of jazz dies


Madoda Michael Nethi, well-known as Rim, who was born at 39 eScwawu in Langa on April 18 1949,the son of the late Nobenkhosi and George Nethi, is no more.

Late on the night of August 31, I received a phone call, which I first ignored – I did not want to answer it because I was just about to fall asleep.

The phone kept on ringing for the fourth time; I eventually answered the call. The person on the other side of the line was Themba Fassie, the elder brother and pianist of the late pop diva Brenda Fassie.

He politely apologised for waking me up so late, and told me “there was no way I could not informed you about the death of our mutual friend Rim’s.”

That call sent shock waves through my body because I just could not believe what Themba told me – even he was shocked. He called me as soon as he received the message from Madoda’s son. Everybody whom I told about Madoda’s death couldn’t believe it.

I remember Madoda sending me a WhatsApp message on August 25, asking me to cancel a standing appointment because he was not feeling well. He was rushed to hospital shortly after that where he died on August 31.

Madoda was a man we spent a lot of time with; you would always find him indoors. If he was not busy listening to avant-garde jazz, he would be attending to family business – a real family man.

We were planning a book on jazz in the townships of Cape Town, and the struggles of musicians. There was no better person who knew the topic regarding jazz in the townships of Cape Town.

Madoda was a prolific writer, the last piece of writing he did was the obituary of his late sister-in-law Mphumi, the wife of the iconic and world- renowned jazz drummer Louis Moholo. That piece appeared earlier this year in Vukani and the Mail &Guardian. Remember Madoda was once the chairperson of the Western Cape Jazz Society and also part of the Langa Heritage Foundation, where they were working on recognising those icons who contribute to the well-being of Langa.

Madoda and his wife was part of the royalty of jazz, they were both born into a family of jazz in Cape Town. His wife Mickey’s late father played for the well-known big band of the 50s, the Marry Macs and so did his father.

Not only did the late Madoda Nethi get married into a well-known family of jazz but his late father and late brother played jazz, and were well-known.

He was born and bred in Langa; he even went to school in Langa, after St Cyprians, he went to Langa High.

He always worked and contributed his time and effort trying to uplift his community – he was an administrator at Ulunthu Centre, then went off to work in Joburg. He travelled all over the world in the line of duty. His last job before he went on retirement was at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town.

But he never stopped, I knew he was a brilliant writer and told him never to give up on his writings.

He wrote broadly on life and on the history of Langa and his favourite subject, jazz in the township.

I knew exactly where to find a decent cup of tea and listen to fine avant-garde jazz, while Madoda would slowly be sipping on his favourite single malt whisky. When we met it was not just about drinking tea and single malt whisky, but we would be sitting and brainstorming. Sometimes I would find him sitting with his sister Notozi and his sister-in-law Penny, in his favourite sound room, sipping on a glass of wine, while his wife Mickey would supply me with endless cups of tea.

The night Madoda died I knew it was not only a friend that died but a tree of wisdom and knowledge. He was my encyclopaedia of jazz in the township; I could always count on him and pick his brain if I didn’t understand an issue on jazz.

When Madoda was buried this past Friday the who’s who of jazz and academia came to say farewell to a gentle giant and a well-respected family man.

The eulogy was delivered by Dr Mthobeli Guma, while another two well-known musicians who are also from a royal household of music in Langa, played their final tribute to Madoda – on piano was Themba Fassie and on trumpet was Simphiwe Mathole. These guys played a moving piece for Madoda, even a man of Madoda’s calibre who knew his jazz would have also been moved by that sombre piece played by them.

The last jazz show we attended together was an Abdullah Ibrahim show in Sea Point. After the show I took some photos of him with Abdullah and ANC heavy-weight Pallo Jordan, who knew Madoda.

Another famous photograph we took together was the one on Green Market Square, in the late 80s. In that photo was me, Madoda, photographer and jazz promoter Rashid Lombard, well-known jazz photographer Basil Breakey, legendary piano player and teacher Bucks Gonco and busker and percussion player, Joe.

Madoda leaves behind his wife Micky Nethi and three children Tshiwo, Khawuta and Nobulawu and grandchildren.

Madoda maybe no more, but his spirit and his writings will live on forever in our hearts.

• Article and pictures by Fanie Jason.