The Miriam Tlali Reading & Book Club (MTR&BC), founded by the wRite associates held a To the Peace on Earth Book Discussion with author Struan Douglas in June 2019.
It is music that drives me. It is my fundamental passion and it has guided me through the country of South Africa to meet so many unique people with their own ways of doing things. And helping to form and mould me. Music has been a sculptor to me as I have flown down the journey of live meeting great musicians and griots. And the good people of South Africa who have taken me under their wing and turned me into the person who can hopefully carry forth this light and love to the next generation.
What prompted you to write the book?
It came together. The main character in the book was Robert Trunz. He came and set up Melt2000 and spent huge fortunes in creating the record label, recording all the great artists of SA, Moses. Madala, Busi in a huge catalogue. Initially as a music journalist I thought I should write a book about Robert. But he said he has got this guy Ananda who has healed and moulded him. So I got to know Ananda. And Ananda got to know my story and the near death experience. So he said well actually you need to write a book about yourself because this information can help a lot of people.
So we had these three characters. And then you mentioned Lianne who was like a mother to this unusual grouping of people. And the book wrote itself. And it came out in April this year because the main characters specifically Moses, Robert, Ananda and Madala are all born in April.
What about the deaths of Moses and Moses at the age of 27?
It was a tremendous mystery to us how this happened. Most people thought that this was a murder covered up. The elders said these youngsters were not taking care of their lives. I was just a couple of years younger them and coming to 27 and was able to see their self destruction through the lens of my own life and try and find ways not to go down that path and that is when the mystery was kind of solved by Ananda who said “come with me and I will show you.” It was a mystery and the solution is to choose life over the things on the stage that bring you down. It is a huge problem International suicide at the age of 27 and specifically with musicians and it is really a driving point to solve that mystery.
What about the police investigation?
Absolutely, I think some truths are just too hard to handle. Even with this book I was not able to follow the investigation and say these are the culprits and this is exactly what happened. The only way I can tell this story is to try and find the meaning through my own life. What exactly happened here might still be able to be told in movies and books still to be written.
The story specifically about Moses Molelekwa was devastating and life changing to us at the time because he was right at the forefront of music in SA and suddenly he was gone. I got hold of the evidence and I followed it but the advice given to me was “Don’t bark at the bad. Rather follow the good.”
It was not my job to find the culprits but rather to say there were three or four things that lead to his downfall one of which was jealousy in the music industry which could have resulted in the murder. And another was drug use among the young musicians maybe having to sustain a career of many performances doing two gigs in a night. There was cocaine use which should not have happened. Another difficult thing was husband and wife working together did create inordinate pressures. And finally the lack of support from the SA music industry and instead its opposite – heavy competition. This was a sensitive soul and we needed to work with him to bring out the best of his work like you are doing here at this book club. There wasn’t these kinds of structures in the industry at the time. He was one his own.
How did Robert come to Moses?
Robert was always into music as an entrepreneur. He created B & W Speakers but his real access was meeting Airto Moreira and they started recording in Brazil and Cuba around ’92 and then Airto said South Africa has democracy coming and it is an exciting time lets go to South Africa. They arrived in Durban and they met Sipho Gumede and the circle grew. Airto was also performing at various festivals. And it was at the festival at the Market Theatre that he saw the young Moses performing and was absolutely blown away and he had a religious experience.
Was the Cullinan farm still operating as a music centre?
Lianne wanted to make films about all the music Robert was recording. Lianne contacted Robert to do the film side. Unfortunately at the time Robert was in a difficult space, He had just moved to SA, Airto had gone back and he was a bit lost. He formed a friendship with Lianne and moved in to stay. And at the same time Ananda had moved to SA and had met Lianne and had also moved in so at one point Lianne had both these guys living with her and that is when they decided to get a project as a canvass for their dreams. The music Fram started at that point.
What was the role of Ananda? We read he had a certain magnetism, but what kind of a character was he?
He was a kind of healer. And a person who would try and bring joy and ought by his youth. Like the Dalali Lama in Cape Town pinched someone on the cheek. Ananda was child like. And with all the musicians coming to the farm under stressful conditions, he was able to bring some light. Also he had been through a life struggle and in prison, so he knew what paths not to go down. He had the effect of galvanising the musicians spirit. Robert brought the recording studio. He was someone who brought everyone together as you said.
But what was his temperament because he changes to become angry?
Yes he was a myriad of personalities. And that is part of his teachings that we can be all things. The anger that eventually caused him to be murdered himself did come out. Perhaps with the healer there is a kind of empathy. The anger that surfaced in him might have been a collective anger that surfaced through him. He might have been a channel through the which the anger could be released.
I came to respect him very much so it was strange to see things that were against what you believe. It makes us realise we are all human. And that specifically as a master Ananda was trying to tell everyone to be the master themselves.
How much did he use nature to heal?
That is a great mystery. He once told me he could fast on pineapple.
Yes he loved Paw Paw. But once he did a test with just pineapple and that he could perfect his body so much that he would eat just pineapple and he could defecate pineapple.
Was he a lonely person?
Yes he was like that and many times as an eccentric and outsider you do long for company so you are right. But he was very happy with his family and the farm was a busy place. And he likes to be around people.
You have been expelled twice from the farm. Why did they have to expel you?
It is strange! I am still in the story. The first time as the story was told there was this incident of black magic. Just as a person flowing in the river of life maybe I picked up randomly things that disturbed this black magic as I am not trained in black magic at all. That is what Ananda told me. The second time I got fired is still the current situation at the farm where it is no longer a music farm. And that has happened since Ananda’s death. He kept the place alive and after his death it has been take over. We tried to reclaim it again for music but we failed.
What is black and white magic?
The way Ananda would have described it would be GOD is the some total of all things and that would be more powerful than any divisive element. So black magic might be some bones to make some funny story and would be a small incident, but the collective of all that is would be more powerful and that is the lesson I took to go for GOD consciousness or even what he called love and then onto what I have come to understand as uBuntu, being this exchange of love. If you take that on a level that is complete and incorporates everything around us black magic as an aspect alone has no power.
Why did he call the African heathen?
I say that there is a danger to this idea of GOD being all and each one of us connected into the being of GOD. There is a danger of superiority thinking. I am born here and able to know that that is not right. And for Robert it was a different story because he really tried to create change by doing the recording. That was the anomaly about this character Ananda.
If you go into his childhood he grew up as an … orphan … yes but more in the biblical sense of the word because he actually came from French gentry. A very wealthy how right in the hills but he was always an outsider known as the “infant terrible” and they sent him into an orphanage. So, there were all contradictions in him.
Was he not maybe frustrated?
Yes he became frustrated and particularly before he was murdered, he was feeling frustrated. Actually when I met Ananda I asked him how Moses had been killed and he said I will show you. And Ananda himself was murdered at a point where he became frustrated. He had so much to give yet not everyone was listening. And that is a lesson we can learn about taking care of one another and having initiatives to allow people the platform to be heard. So, those frustrations don’t come up. But maybe if you go back to that era or even to the late 90s perhaps we are more advanced now.
How did he treat the farm labourer?
There was farm labourer who was there called Wilson and I never detected anything but years later after his murder there was a rumour that was circulated that there was some anomosity.
Questions to the audience:
Why the title?
It is from the French saying because Ananda was from France. His saying was A la paid our Terre which means to the peace on earth. His philosophy that he was bringing forward we thought was an external vision to build a sustainable village but the book deals with trying to understand the philosophy. I have turned it around to say maybe the philosophy is to find the peace within. A la paid sur Terre for me means finding the peace within.
When did Moses start his music career?
At the age of 17, 1991.
What type of a healer was Ananda?
Ananda the name was disciple of the Buddha if you go back in history. He served under the compassionate healer in India and he also served under Osho kind of a Zen Buddhist healer. An then I believe he was in Mexico where he learnt to be a mescalito, healing with a psychedelic drug. I believe he combined all these elements. I would describe him as a sympathetic healer as he could see things others could not see.
But he was not exactly Ananda, what was he before?
He was born and christened Andre and then he was turned into Ananda. He was serving Hugging Amma and she travels the world hugging millions of people. She has an ashram in India. Because he was big man, he was her bodyguard. It was his first job after prison. She came to like him and said I will give you the name Ananda. It is kind of symbolic of Budhha’s disciple being called Ananda so he in a way was disciple to Hugging Amma.
If Ananda was murdered did Moses commit suicide?
It was questionable. It is a mystery and I wish one day we all know the truth. I think it will help us. I have given my best describe what it is.
Is the best, what you have or what you think is appropriate to share?
You know if I did have more when I first started writing this book I thought I could go into a crime genre and plot it out and show you the whole thing exactly as it happened, as it had been told to me. But as I started with that it did not resonate properly with my spirit, so possibly the initial facts that I had been given were incorrect.
And that is why I draw on the message that Lianne gave that said “Don’t bark at the bad. Follow the good and bring out all the creative projects in you and that is where the magic lies.”
I think the truth of exactly what happened is not in the best interests of everybody. The truth at this stage – how will we deal with the anger. If there was this beautiful guy that we all know and he actually killed somebody, how will we deal with it as a people? As people we need to find ways to heal ourselves, to deal with our anger, understand the story and ultimately protect ourselves so if we are in a position like Moses with global attention and magical talents we are able to remain rooted and protected in the face of the great difficulties that stage performance brings. There is adoration and all unusual things. The Moses story could be more, a feature film or a series of books. It was a very deep and rich story.
What other facts contributed to his death?
The main story in in the industry and the elder musicians that were touring with him at the time close to his death was drug use and specifically cocaine. I was invited to put it into the book and the relationship between drug usage depression and suicide. That is a very real thing that we can analyse as a society.
There were other musicians and even close friends of mine that committed suicide. So I think Moses’s story is a catalyst for understanding the phenomenon of suicide in a greater way rather than the actual details of his suicide. There was shock and anger as well that would have clouded us getting to the truth and unfortunately the investigation from the private investigator did bring in the names of some very famous people from South Africa. That is also why the police would have rejected it. And now 15 years later and no explanation. It is a closed case. It was re-opened again in 2007 with some new strong evidence pointing to that it was a murder. We had all felt impulsively it must have been a murder. It was squashed by the police.
Why are musicians and writers lonely people?
I think it takes a long time to do these projects. A book like this takes 15 to 25 000 hours. It is a long time. If you are not working you are eating or sleeping. It is your passions that take over your life and you become a servant of your muse so to speak for this creativity that flows through you. If you take the spiritual quest we are all hear to serve and it is our duty as a human being. And maybe that is the contradiction. The loneliness is inherent. And creativity is going to be a lonely pursuit because it is so time consuming.
Before Handle wrote Messiah he had take Opium. And there were others in South Africa like Kabelo that had to be educated. Why do singers in South Africa have to go through that?
It is not certain that the work was done on drugs. I know a lot of people who say the work was done after the drugs. It is more that you are chasing something that doesn’t exist when you are creating, an album, ballet or whatever doesn’t exist. I think when you use drugs it helps you to chase and keeps you chasing after something to try and get there. It is also depression from the loneliness the drugs become a friend in need.
Don’t you think the community in Cullinan was some sort of cult?
I don’t think so because I don’t really know what cult has come to mean. Cult is like you need a leader to follow.
Well Ananda was!
But no-one was following him I was the only one following him!
So it was developing into that?
But it never got there. These were very unusual people and a lot of musicians. And musicians are not really cult people unless it is death metal. But in African Jazz you have guys like Madala Kunene and these are not cult people. These are just very open souls. That was not a word that I saw. This idea of master disciple was really from Ananda’s own personal journey of having worked with Osho and Hugging Amma in India under the tradition of master disciple. And that is a tradition that exists beyond cult. I know Osho has had different publicity through the Wild West series that illustrated he was some kind of Cult but the Melt2000 farm didn’t have that kind of organisation either. It was very fluid.
What is psychedelic music?
Yes it came in this expression in the late 90s as trance music which brought a psychedelic experience of people having trance parties out in these outdoor locations and they were secretive parties so you would just get a message and people would arrive at these parties. This was a kind of new psychedelic experience that came through in the late 90s into the early 00s. Why it fitted into the book is that Robert Trunz joked that with a surname like Trunz he was bound to get into trance. He helped to design the speakers for these parties that brought people together into outdoor environments. It wasn’t the same as the 60s, but it was music amongst psychedelic experiences and psychedelic drug taking.
Is there an awareness that can break the cycle of suicide and depression?
A lot of people in the music industry are saying that this idea of musicians chasing money is something in the past. We are not finding a new kind of star that puts love and care as the primary thing they are chasing. This is kind of new for society. I went to Exclusive Books at the airport and looked at all the titles and not one had a positive title. It was all crime, theft and murder and so on. I was wondering where does my title fit. There are very few positive titles out there. So, what we are doing about it is we are having to come together as people who do care and hopefully it is a change that is greater than us. When you have many people who start to care hopefully it will become inspiring and grown exponentially. In terms of organisation and structures the kind that are working are these amazing individuals who have gone on and done it themselves. And this is an example the Write Associates – to have the space to air your views and opinions is a wonderful platform.
The Moses Molelekwa story was a real shift changer as he was a stunning musician that made stunning music and he seemed to believe in all these ideals of love and care.
Don’t you think you can start something to remedy this?
Yes I was inspired by a group of musicians in UK who started Help Music call lie. And apparently they have saved lives specifically for the music industry. It was three musicians who started that. And we definitely need that. Our music industry in South Africa is very fragmented. In fact what has happened with Moses is an example how our industry is and then HHP and we might read about somebody else tomorrow.
Will there be another book on this topic?
There could be lots but whether I will write them I don’t know. There is the Robert Trunz story, just recently Lianne released her film on Kwaito music which was a whole other scene happening around 2000. At the launch Moses’s father Jerry Molelekwa was saying his sister has a great book that she wants to write. And now there is new information that has come out over the last few months which I have not read yet regarding the circumstances of Moses’s death. And that could be another story.
It is the same philosophy as with my jazz book The Story of SA Jazz and that is more we want to give the tools to the young writers to take these rich stories, the young musicians to take this inspiration and go forward. Whether I write another book in this vein I don’t know but if this starts an unveiling of freedom literature I think that would be amazing. In my opinion there are some many stories you could even talk to a beggor. It is more to spark an inspiration.
Where would Moses be today?
The women used to scream. He used to drive women crazy and that was another difficulty with his wife – coping with the attention he was getting. He was young handsome talented. He had everything the attention was always on him. But I want to talk about the music industry. You make an album and then you go down but with jazz it is different. It has hot longevity. You can sustain it. Do you think Moses would still be at that level?
His story is exactly as it is. I don’t think it could be different. It makes me think of Thelonious Monk. It was a limited catalogue he left us with. If we had 40 years of Moses Molelekwa I personally think he could have recreated the whole world he was so powerful. We would have a Moses Molelekwa centre for learning in ever suburb in South Africa. His band was so strong and powerful. I have never since seen a band play so tight and well rehearsed. You can hear in the live recordings in Johannesburg he was on another level. But, what he wanted to do was take that other level to everybody. He wanted his band to be a travelling school with people coming in. He was similar to Ananda who wanted to have a school. Moses was the character that if he was still alive could have created something really big for the whole world to get into this idea of “finding oneself.” Genes and Spirits understanding the philosophy of reality. And then expressing yourself in multiple ways. He says you can be a myriad of things.
Why do people get into drugs?
I am trying to turn that around and it is not that people gets into drugs but that drugs gets into people. And that is how we can protect ourselves by getting to know ourselves.
That is why I say they are vulnerable. They need protection.
What was your connection with Moses?
First of all I lived this story. The I started my career as a music journalist the first person I started writing about was Moses. I lived his death and coming to terms with his death.
When I started to write that story there was that moment at about 4AM when suddenly I couldn’t describe the murder scene that I had been told. Maybe that was an instance of Moses coming and saying just go with the healing, or maybe it wasn’t. It was an unusual episode and where I suddenly changed course to present the book in this way. And thirdly at the launch Madala Kunene who was also born on the 17th of April. The coincidence was the Moses and Ananda similarity both born on April 17th. And then at the launch at Roving Bantu Kitchen, Sifiso says he wants to get Madala Kunene to launch the book. He has not read the book and Madala is a big star in it. He is the person who mentors me into making music and helps me to overcome anger. The practice of making music is ver healing specifically with anger. And now Sifiso is in Durban with Madala and he says he has discovered the elder brother he never had. So all these coincidences are suddenly coming out of the book. And also Robert Trunz coming to the launch was very healing because Robert has retired from the industry. He put all his money into recording African music and in a sense he has been mistreated by the industry which is very competitive and jealous.
And another small coincidence was I read on Facebook something Zoe Molelekwa was writing to his friends. And it was exactly the sentiment I am trying to get across in the book – of awareness, forgiveness and love and ubuntu. And that was another confirmation for me that we are on the right track of healing.
And that is the memory I have of Moses. Him sitting on the side of the street pouring his heart out to a beggar. Or when those girls were screaming for him, he said ladies just give your love. He doesn’t want more. He was just like that and above all those things. These noble qualities of forgiveness and so on are things he would have stood for.
What do you feel about plagiarism?
Well obviously that is not the way. You must live your own story. And I think in the process of doing it you would probably come to discover that. However translations would be wonderful. Ananda was French. And you talk about African languages. Taking these iconic stories and translating them and getting them to other people would be good. It is a catch 22 because we want as many people as possible to be touched by the story as with the great Winston Mankunku quote, “If I can help one person stop killing I have done my job.” So, if I can help one person stop killing I have done my job.
Question to the audience:
There are a lot of things that we youngsters don’t know. Some people went through a lot. It was very interesting for me and I am sure I am going to start reading.
For me it was very insightful. I was not there when all this happened but somehow I am taken aback especially on jazz. I am starting to have this thing how do I listen to jazz. I want to know about the elders like Miriam Makeba and these ones that died young. What happened? It is very insightful.
Thank you to Innocent Tseu for these photographs and video