The Isizwe Music Museum: Recognising SA's music history

2017-12-03 00:00 - Grethe Kemp
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The Isizwe Music Museum has moved from its modest home in Benoni to an expansive venue in Alberton. Grethe Kemp speaks to local music stalwart Noni Ntaka about creating a space for our audio legacy.

In 1999, Noni Ntaka - the daughter of legendary jazz musician Blue Ntaka and now a musical heritage stalwart in her own right – fought for and got office space at the Benoni Museum in order to showcase and give a home to the history of South African music and those who practice it. It was something that hadn’t been done before, and finally gave some recognition to our country’s rich musical history and evolution.

It was a good start, but it wasn’t enough for Noni, and she kept knocking on doors and thinking big.

Now, the Isizwe Music Museum, as it’s called, has found expansive premises in Brackenhurst, a suburb that was the birthplace of many local music legends. Launched on November 5, it’s already sparking the attention of the media – and of local residents.

But this is no ordinary museum. Ntaka sought to create a space that is alive, interactive and colourful.

“People don’t like to read,” the short woman with the big personality tells me.

“I wanted the museum to be an introduction that will spark their interest so that they want to learn more.”

She’s an hour late for our interview, but her entrance is so jovial that I don’t mind. Dressed in a beautiful white dress and headwrap, she comes in hustling and bustling and tells me she’s just finished an interview with the BBC. Without skipping a beat, she sits down and launches into her story without my having to prompt her.

Once a residential home, the museum’s walls have been transformed by colourful music-themed collages and each room is dedicated to a different instrument. There is a recording studio, aspirant musicians can get lessons, there are workshops and the venue can be booked. At certain times, it will showcase modern and traditional instruments like the mamokhorong and chipendani and there are books, magazines, tapes, records, CDs and clothes that document the history of black music in this country.

Noni has gathered these objects from people who want to share what they have, for everyone to enjoy them. Guests are urged to try and play some of the instruments to hear how they sound and to appreciate the skill required to coax music from them.

“A museum is a place of learning and we want people to interact, to be able to touch and feel things. We want them to hear the difference between instruments,” she tells me.

But the most vibrant offering is Isizwe’s Sunday music events. For a small entrance fee, the public can enjoy the food vendors, a roaring bonfire and indigenous music performances, and share in the knowledge. Guests can hear music styles both known and unknown, see both young and established musicians perform and hear instruments they might never have heard before. It’s finally given Brackenhurst a spot to congregate, learn, enjoy and, most importantly, hear the music.

NOTE: The museum is at 11 Koedoe Street, Brackenhurst, Alberton. Phone 062 599 2600 to find out about their Sunday events or visit

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