THE newly refurbished Kippies building in Newtown is open for business, and will host cultural events, adding to the vibe of the arty precinct.

One of Johannesburg’s most famous jazz clubs in its previous incarnation, Kippies was officially relaunched on Friday, 5 March. It is a joint venture between the City and the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

On the day, the guests were in a jubilant mood to welcome back a building which is synonymous with arts, culture and heritage. A while ago the JDA undertook, on behalf of the City, to refurbish the Kippies building with GAPP Architects and Urban Designers. Assistance came from Herbert Prins, a heritage specialist.

“As part of the revamp, the roof was given a makeover and the parquet and timber joinery restored, so as to bring out their original beauty,” said GAPP Architects’ Joy Campkin-Smith.

Kippies jazz club was established in 1987, named after “the sad man of jazz” Kippie Moeketsi. He was so called because he always had an expression of misery on his face. Moeketsi began his musical career playing the clarinet but soon switched to the saxophone. He became one of South Africa’s most famous and best loved jazz musicians.

He played with many jazz greats such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela, among others, yet he died destitute in 1983, at the age of 58, after many years of alcohol abuse. Kippies was closed down in 2005 after the building was found to have major structural flaws. The club was moved to the former Songwriters’ Club in Quinn Street in 2006, but was closed again in 2008.

At Friday’s launch, Prins said, to much applause: “I know you’re wondering what qualifies me as a heritage specialist, well the answer is I’ve been around more than most.

“In the 1980s, I was a member of the National Monument Plans Approval Committee and the City council was hellbent on destroying Newtown, but the committee took it upon itself to preserve what it thought was our heritage.”

Market Theatre
Kippies is part of the Market Theatre Complex, and Sibongiseni Mkhize, the chief executive of the Market Theatre Foundation, said: “This building has been an eyesore since 2005 to 2008, but now it’s a pleasure to come to work.

“We as the Market Theatre are happy that we can now use Kippies and will make sure we preserve this heritage site, while making sure the arts are always fully represented.”

Kippies will ‘ increase the cultural offering available in Newtown’, says Lael Bethlehem, the chief executive of the JDA

The chairperson of the urban management section 79 committee, councillor Titus Mabotja, said the cultural precinct was testament to the City’s determination to maintain the art heritage centre of Newtown.

“Inner city regeneration is happening and everyone, even those who never met Kippie Moeketsi, can have a seat next to his statue outside the building.”

Moeketsi is portrayed in the bronze life-size sculpture sitting on a chair in a contemplative pose, with his saxophone in his right hand. There is a seat next to him, for passers-by to sit a while.

It was created by artists Guy du Toit and Egon Tania. “The sculpture is a wonderful reminder of our jazz heritage and the expression on Moeketsi’s face bears testament to why he was known as the sad man,” said Du Toit.

The sculpture was unveiled in September 2009 by Steven Sack, the City’s director of arts, culture and heritage. “When he sits there all alone, you kind of feel the spirit of the man as there was that loneliness in him,” Sack said at the time.

The revamped Kippies building will add to a number of successful projects that form part of the Newtown cultural precinct. “This addition to the cultural landscape will increase the cultural offering available in Newtown in the form of theatre, dance studios, museums, performance space, retail, office and residential spaces,” said Lael Bethlehem, the chief executive of the JDA.

These spaces include the Moving into Dance Studios, the Workers’ Museum, which also opened on Friday, and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, a science institute.

The Potato Shed immediately west of Kippies is also about to undergo a major revamp. The R1-billion development will contain a flea market, shops, offices, a 180-room hotel and a square built on the site. “This development will be undertaken by Atterbury Investments and will keep to the ethos of Newtown,” said Bethlehem.

Guests at the launch also saw the Pigeons and the Sisulu sculptures. The three origami-like pigeons stand in a triangle at the intersection of Main and Main Reef roads in Ferreirasdorp, next to the Johannesburg Family Court.

The Sisulu sculpture, on the corner of Diagonal, Ntemi Piliso and Market streets, depicts Walter and Albertina Sisulu. They are sitting, facing each other, and around the concrete base are the words: “Walter and Albertina Sisulu married in 1944. Through their enduring love and dedication they became parents to the nation.”