Inextinguishable Flame: RIP Steve Fataar



STEVE Fataar. Photograph by Gary van Dyk.

A MAN WITH true heart, fluid musicality and a profound sense of dignity that never needed polishing with platitudes and compliments, Durban-based singer, acoustic guitarist and song-writer, Steve Fataar passed away from lung complications on 18 January 2020. He was 76.

A seminal part of the 1960s rock band The Flames, initially alongside his younger brothers, Edries (aka Brother) and Ricky, who was at the time just nine years old, and instructed to man the drum kit and keep the beat, Fataar wrote and performed the popular hit For Your Precious Love. Earning a gold disc for its sales, this song was to become the group’s flagship song in so many ways. It described the complexities of the era, in its history. But this acknowledgement was a bittersweet burden The Flames carried.

Fiercely opposed to the apartheid regime, Fataar used his music as a tool to cut across the racial divide; it aimed to and succeeded in bringing people together. In 2018, he told journalist Warren Ludski in an interview to celebrate his 75th birthday that his best type of birthday present would be for the giver to “give to someone who was homeless, poverty stricken, hungry or destitute, a gift to make their lives more comfortable.” He added “People say we were disadvantaged. We were probably the most successful band and so what is so disadvantaged about that?”

Born Abdur Rahman Fataar, on 14 March 1943, he was ‘renamed’ Steve by a school teacher in the Durban suburb of Grenville, because she could not pronounce his name. Music infiltrated into his life and sensibilities through the then-named “Coon Carnival”, which was well known in Cape Town, but had manifestations in Durban as well. In 1959, Fataar matriculated at Epsom Road high school in Durban with a dream to become a teacher, but then he discovered the guitar and the rest is rock history.

In 1970, the Flames embarked on their first international tour, to the United Kingdom. They were armed with everything they thought they needed, except for a work permit. Given their status as artists, they managed to skip the draconian rules and landed up with gigs at the Royal Albert Hall, where they opened for British rock bands Jethro Tull and Yes. On that tour, which also took them to France, a bond was formed between the Flames and American pop band The Beach Boys. The latter were keen to take the Flames under their proverbial wing. Of course, for artistes of colour coming from an apartheid-laden context where cultural embargoes held sway this was for The Flames “striking gold”. Their first album See the Light came out on a limited release in the United States and Europe. It was never released in South Africa. And similarly, the gold disc for sales of For Your Precious Love was never formally given to them.

The Flames’s association with The Beach Boys ended poorly with the splitting of the latter band and alleged breach of contract on their part. This was an immense pity for the archival history of The Flames, which to this day, sits in a vault which is not accessible to the public due to copyright issues with the former Beach Boys.

Fataar passed away after performing a gig at Joey Fourie’s popular night club Zack’s in Windermere, Durban. He enjoyed a cult hero status among his myriads of followers and fans. He leaves his 99-year-old mother Biba, in Australia, his Australia-based daughter Zanine Sewell, from his first marriage; his partner Marianne Knudsen, and South African resident children, Tara, Dane and Camilla. His youngest daughter Lyla lives in Denmark. He also leaves his brother Ricky in San Francisco, three grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, not to forget a wide and loving fan base.

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