Photo by Rick Simon
For those of us who lived in Toronto in the 1990's, Sfiso Ntuli was a very prominent figure on the African music scene as leader of the group Siyakha, as a show promoter, and as an activist for the liberation of South Africa.
Siyakha was Sfiso's group, for which I played drums for several years. Other members included - at various times - Victor Shiffman, Merill Matthews, Guillomar Campbell, Bruce Burron, Colin Campbell, Kim Roberts, Lizzie Mahashe, another South African whom I only knew as Wendy, the late Jamisse Jamo, Kobena Aquaa Harrison and others who i cant recall. We were basically an mbaqanga band, with a few other SA rhythms thrown in. I don't think we were very good at it, at least we wern't as good as the bands from SA who originally made this music, but we had the spirit of the music, and Sfiso himself performed a lot of the dance. His leadership style came more from being an ANC activist than a bandleader, he would call the band together before a show for a rousing talk before the show, addressing us as 'comrades', and then we would open with the African national anthem.
We played a lot, it was the golden days of the African music scene in Toronto. We went to New York city to play at SOB's visited Montreal, but mostly we gigged in the Toronto area at Harbourfront, Ontario Place, Afrofest, Toronto City Hall, the Bamboo Club, as well as various anti-apartheid events that were numerous in those days. I recall Queens park concerts for Oliver Tambo and a welcome night for Winnie Mandela. But the evening that is most vivid took place on April 27, 1994, when Siyakha headlined a show at the Bamboo Club on the night that Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa's first Black president. (Something I thought a lot about last year on the night Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A.)
The above photo is of Sfiso in his club in Joberg that he runs/owns/manages - I'm not sure which. If you look at the poster for the Politburo Sessions right above Sfiso's head, you'll see the list 'musos, dancers and dj's'. Hard to believe, but in the 90's here in Toronto, no one had really put that connection together. It was Sfiso who first proposed those three elements as necessary for any good party, and then tried to assemble them best he could in shows that he called Dark City Jive. No one really understood what he was trying to do, he was way ahead of his time.
He looks like he is totally in his element now.