SHOVELLING IT: Vusi Ximba never tires of making people laugh. © Sowetan.
SHOVELLING IT: Vusi Ximba never tires of making people laugh. © Sowetan.

Musa Ndwandwe

Musa Ndwandwe

Life as a comedian is anything but easy. Jokes are extremely perishable and practitioners are permanently under pressure to invent fresh material for every routine.

No matter how great your last rendition, come show time audiences demand new jokes.

One comedian seems to be exempt from the rigorous demands of this cut-throat industry.

It was in the late 1960s that Durban-based comedian Vusi Ximba first captivated audiences with his razor-sharp humour.

Now 72, Ximba's tales are in such demand that hip youngsters pack the Durban Playhouse to be entertained.

Granted, Ximba has an unfair advantage over fellow humorists. His deliveries are in the form of song. His tools, the piano accordion and an unpolished tenor, put him in a class of his own.

But it's not his musical ability audiences are after. His mastery of that art form is limited to a few chords and his vocal prowess cannot extend beyond one key.

It is his ability to tell stories about everyday life in the townships, delivering biting yet humorous commentary in the process, that is his winning formula. His favourite fodder is the folly of drunkenness and debauchery.

Though he's been a teetotaller for the past four years, Ximba still frequents his neighbourhood shebeens in search of inspirational anecdotes.

"People are at the height of madness under the influence of alcohol and drinking holes are the perfect place to observe human nature," Ximba says.

His latest album, Govozile, tells the story of a teenage girl who seeks pleasure from the opposite sex at taverns with such abandon that the consequences of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases do not matter.

Though a poignant story, trust Ximba to tell it in a way that elicits fits of laughter.

Particularly striking about Ximba's stories is that he has the gall to call a spade a spade.

"I'm amazed by the hypocrisy of many people, who tolerate vulgar language in the Bible but frown on my using the same language," he says defensively.

Hip-hop hitmakers Jozi enhanced their status by including samples of Ximba's 1970's hit, Egigini, in their highly successful What's With The Attitude.

While this helped shove Ximba back into the spotlight he reaped no financial rewards.

Like many of his contemporaries Ximba recorded double platinum hits without any royalties accruing to him.

Duped by producers and publishers into a disempowering contract, he can only watch as his songs continue to be recycled.

"I can't let those things put me off," Ximba says. "I love my work and it gives me immense pleasure to see people laugh."

He returned from a successful tour of Swaziland to headline the regular 99percent Zulu Comedy Show at the Durban Playhouse last week.