O Nketsang

Firstly I must admit that this is one post I struggled to write, partially because there is so little of Ntate Rex’s life that is documented. This goes back to the constant cry of our legends failing to fully receive their flowers because there is only a little of what they’ve done that we know of. And I guess that’s where I try to come in, I try to shine a light on those deserving of it. However I am not complaining as this minor struggle meant that I had to dig much deeper to find any bit of information on Ntate Rex, and I must say this exercise turned fruitful as I learnt of and about much and many more than I had ever known. I do however reservedly rest assured in knowing that the strives of the current generation of artists are well documented and will be far much easier to access and be celebrated by future “likkle” Arehones’ with their blogs.

Rex Rabanye

Micheal Morake Rabanye was born in what I would consider the South African equivalent of Philadelphia, Potchefstroom. Those familiar with its history know that Potch just like Philly is the acoustic and classical home of its country. And this gets me to wonder if the musical history of his hometown had any influence on him pursuing a musical career or even on his style of music.

Ntate Rex was a jazz artist and master keyboardist whose music and sound I would describe as inventive, applicable and nostalgic at best. But apart from his music playing backdrop to most of our memories, Ntate Rex was also a law graduate holding a B Juris degree from the University of Bophuthatswana which he obtained in 1984.

“,His bee-hive organ sound earned him millions of fans around the country…” – Max Mojapelo

Ntate Rex’s music career like those of many others started as part of a band called, The Teenage Lovers. Their sound as a band was nothing like the prominent marabi-styled dance bands that dominated the 70s nor was it anything like the progressive jazz sounds of the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim from the same era, but instead their sound was calm but yet still just as imposing as the band’s unconventional name. While going through their catalog I noticed that their sound and more particularly their use of the organ drifted more towards that of the 6os Mod sound and less to the 70s funk kinda sound, which got me thinking that they may have conceptualized their music in the 60s and only released it in the 70s or perhaps they simply just took inspiration from those prior sounds.
The song Trinity I would say best sums up their sound and band dynamic with each component and instrument complementing the other.

As a solo artist Ntate Rex released a long list of projects and albums that seemed to capture the milieu of the time of their individual releases. For instance among others in 1989 when he was a LLB student at Wits he released the album, Campus mood, in 1990 upon the release of Mandela from prison he released the album titled, Somlandela and one of his final releases recorded in the midst of his fight against a life threatening lung condition was titled, Fight The Good Fight. The list is endless but the trend is clear, he’s seemingly literal interpretation of mood and times isn’t only evident in the titles of his songs and albums but in the actual music as well.

The man was brilliant and brilliance deserves recognition and reward, but is there any point or limit where it can be said “We have honoured you enough”? There simply is not. Not even a SAMAs lifetime achievement award such as the one Ntate Rex was awarded with can do that. And I guess ours is to constantly revisit and applaud as often as we can, that is the least we can do to honour brilliance.

Thee Song

In the year 1986 Rex Rabanye released the song O’Nketsang as part of a similarly titled album, and the world as it was known has never been the same again. It’s only fair to say the song took local and international audiences by storm and still to this day everyone who has heard the song asks themselves “How did he possibly come up with that?”.

I reckon the only other 2 songs that could match O’Nketsang in getting a South African crowd going is Nkalakatha and Sister Betina.

Also notice as I had highlighted before how literal he names the song, I can just picture Ntate Rex or whoever was with him in studio upon the completion of the song yelling out “O Nketsang!” and I guess that’s many of our reaction too when listening to the song!

“,,I don’t know another track like this one. Even in comparison to the other digital synthesizer based music coming out of South Africa around that time (the mid ‘80s) it stands out a mile. It’s so much in its own world that I can never quite manage to work it into DJ sets…” – Dan Snaith

“It sounds like home, being close to your elders or visiting your roots. The tackle percussion just scream Re Bana Ba Africa, [the fact that] the ‘lesser’ sound quality makes even more nostalgia as though it’s playing on tape.” – Abuti Vally

Everyone seems to have O Nketsang stories and memories, do share yours!


Beyond memory,:,recording the history,,,moments and memories of South African music by Max Mojapelo




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