Tributes have been pouring in for the late Steve Fataar, who passed away unexpectedly last Saturday. Fataar, who made a name for himself as the lead guitarist and vocalist for the band the Flames, died as a result of lung complications.
Formed in the early 1960s, the Flames went through various iterations with band members coming and going but, at the height of their success, they consisted of Steve Fataar, his brothers, Ricky and Edries (known by most as ‘Brother’) and Blondie Chapman, who would go on to perform with the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
The band achieved great success early on, covering popular pop songs of the day and performing to packed multi-racial audiences across the country, something that irked the local police:
It was ridiculous, they would follow us everywhere. They made sure we stayed in our rooms, made sure we didn’t mix, and stuff like that. But they couldn’t stop it. It became more of a problem for them than it was for us actually.” Steve Fataar, in an interview with Warren Ludski, March 2018
In the late ’60s the band left South Africa to try to make it on the international music scene. While performing in France in 1969 they were discovered by Carl Wilson from the Beach Boys, something that would turn out to be both a blessing and a curse.
We did a couple gigs in the UK and played Albert Hall with Jethro Tull and Yes, and played in France where, in a stroke of luck, the Beach Boys saw us. We were just what they wanted for their new record label.” Steve Fataar, in an interview with Warren Ludski, March 2018
Suddenly the Flames were playing at venues across America, touring with Wilson to promote their new album, See The Light. Two of their singles charted in the Top 10, with See The Light making Billboard’s Top 100, considered to be the ‘bible’ of the music industry. The band recorded a second album, but just as things were getting going, the Beach Boys went to war with each other, putting a halt to the band’s progress. Worn out by Hollywood and with the Flames disbanding, Fataar decided to return to South Africa:
I decided to come back to Durban… For a long time it was a culture shock. For me it was very traumatic coming back to the very conservative climate of the early ’70s” Steve Fataar, in an interview with Karen Lotter, 2002
But it was back home in 1979 that Fataar met Marianne Knudsen, the love of his life who would become the mother of his children, much to the consternation of the aprtheid authorities. Segregation meant that people couldn’t mix in clubs, so to get around this issue people would throw house parties, which is where Fataar, 36 at the time, met the 19-year-old Marianne. The couple soon moved in together, in defiance of the government, with the result that their home was subjected to constant raids by the police. Fataar was charged under the Immorality Act*, prompting his friend, Nanda Soobbe, to draw a cartoon mocking the ridiculousness of the law:
I did the cartoon in our darkest days, when Steve was charged under the Immorality Act. I used the words from the Flames famous number one hit, For Your Precious Love. “He could climb the highest mountains and swim the deepest sea”. The Immorality Act was represented by the highest mountain, and the deepest ocean was represented by segregation, indignation and humiliation. Steve had a clipping of this cartoon in a plastic envelope for 30 years. We felt so proud of the Flames. Their talent showed the world that people of colour were not inferior.” Nanda Soobbe, cartoonist and long-time friend of Steve Fataar
A few years later, in 1982, Marianne gave birth to the couple’s first child, Tara, whilst on holiday in Cape Town. The nurses quickly ushered Marianne out of the shared ward and into a private room, fearing what the other women might do once they discovered that the child’s father wasn’t white.
Yet, despite public disapproval and constant interference from the police, the couple survived, going on to have four more children. Fataar continued his career in music and was famous for his support of other local artists and the Durban community at large. Not long before his death he picked up his guitar to bid farewell to the late Paddy Kearney, when a memorial was held in his honour at the Durban City Hall.
Steve Fataar stayed true to himself strumming his guitar right up to the end – the night before he died he was seen doing what he did best – and what he loved most – performing at a local music venue in Durban.
Steve Fataar was a wonderful musician, a humanist and a great son of the city of Durban.” Logie Naidoo, former eThekwini Speaker
* The first Immorality Act of 1927 prohibited sex between white and black people. In 1950 it was amended to prohibit sex between whites and all non-whites. The second Immorality Act of 1957 continued this prohibition and also dealt with a number of other sex offences. The ban on interracial sex was lifted in 1985, but certain sections of the 1957 act dealing with prostitution remain in force as the Sexual Offences Act, 1957