Composer left us like a rare bird singing

Msimelelo Silinga

Msimelelo Silinga

Allan Mzamo Silinga, the composer of one of the most iconic South African classic songs of all time Ntyilo Ntyilo - has died.

The legendary composer was 86 years old when he died last Monday at Baziya, about 40km outside Mthatha.

Ntyilo Ntyilo is an evergreen classic that brought fame to Miriam Makeba. It's a song that artist with jazz pretensions would do well to include in their repertoire.

As a youngster, Silinga immersed himself in the various indigenous musical styles. And at St Johns College in Mthatha, where he began his education, he discovered that he had considerable talent as a tenor, which he later developed at Lovedale College.

He came to Johannesburg in 1941 to work as a clerk on the mines, but quickly became involved in the city's burgeoning African music scene as the co-founder of the Gay Darkies.

They made some records for Trutone recording company. One of Silinga's songs Intliziyo Zibuhlungu,was later incorporated into the soundtrack of the African film Jim Comes To Jo'burg (starring Dolly Rathebe), sales rocketed to 50 000.

In 1951 while living in Wattville, Benoni, Silinga went to work for the Rand Tobacco Company as a sales representative and wrote several very successful jingles for cigarettes.

He maintained a keen interest in local African music and was perhaps the first person to recognise the extraordinary potential of Makeba.

At the time, the 20-year-old Makeba was singing with the Cuban Brothers. Silinga recommended the group to EMI who cut Makeba's first recording.

In 1954, Makeba joined the Manhattan Brothers, the most popular and successful African musical group of the time, a move that instantly catapulted her into major show business.

Ntyilo Ntyilo, a song that Silinga had written especially for her, was one of the first recordings by the Manhattans.

Hugh Masekela, Pharoah Sanders, Dolly Rathebe, Tshepo Tshola and Thandiswa Mazwai have done versions of it.

Silinga also wrote another masterpiece, Holilili, that Makeba recorded with her new, all-female vocal group, the Skylarks in 1956.

In the early 1970s, Silinga left Johannesburg for Mthatha where he built and operated the city's first supermarket.

Meanwhile, Silinga's most famous song, Ntyilo Ntyilo, with its haunting lyrics, had become a standard set piece in the repertoire of any aspiring South African jazz artist.

As for its meaning, Silinga explained: "I always have difficulty in explaining Ntyilo Ntyilo. All things must be in the imagination . I heard a bird singing in the bush and as I came close to it, it was singing very sweetly . It was heard to sing a thrilling song . Ntyilo Ntyilo . the song is supposed to be beautiful, and if I achieved that, I achieved what I set out to do."

Silinga will be buried tomorrow in Bizana. The service starts at 9am at the Silinga homestead.