Who is Todd Matshikiza? The iconic pianist celebrated in today's Google Doodle

Who is Todd Matshikiza? The iconic pianist celebrated in today's Google Doodle

Matshikiza was known both for his work as a musician and as a writer about racial injustices

Keith Vlahakis / Google

Go to Google's homepage today and you'll find a cartoon man's face beaming back at you.

The smile belongs to Todd Matshikiza, a South African jazz musician and writer, whose works and commitment to social change were influential both at home and in the UK.

And so, the search engine has dedicated its latest Doodle to celebrating his life and legacy.

Matshikiza was a black musician living under South Africa’s apartheid system. Born in 1921, he first gained recognition in the 1940s, by composing songs that blended African traditional and European-classical styles.

His work, Hamba Kahle, has become a standard for choral groups throughout South Africa, and was performed when the UK’s then-princess Elizabeth, later the Queen, visited in 1946.

Matshikiza also established his own private music school, the Todd Matshikiza School of Music, where he taught jazz piano.

As a composer, his other influential works include the song Quickly in Love, which plays in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and the score for all-Black jazz musical King Kong, which premiered in 1958 and was a smash hit, spreading as far as London.

The author of today's Google Doodle, Keith Vlahakis, explained in a Q&A that his pop-art style rendering of Matshikiza was influenced by the poster for that musical.

Some of the artwork for Matzhikiza's musical King KongYouTube / Stage Door Records

The musical Mkhumbane (1960) with compositions by Matshikiza and Alan Paton was also significant, providing a satirical social commentary on the Black experience in Cato Manor, an area in South Africa, in the 1959s.

Meanwhile, as a journalist, Matshikiza worked to highlight the racial injustices going on in South Africa at the time. He worked mainly for Drum magazine, a music title, and wrote extensively about life in small local townships and the music that was coming out of them.

Eventually, in 1960 Matzhikiza moved to London with his wife and two children out of frustration with the apartheid system.

There, he continued working as a jazz pianist and freelance journalist, highlighting the contribution of black South African music in the fight against racial injustice at home.

During his years in London, he also worked as a presenter and researcher for the BBC, and wrote a memoir – 'Chocolates for my Wife' – which tells the story of his life and work.

It has, in later years, been noted for its handling of the Black experience, and how he as an individual was affected both by apartheid in South Africa, and racism in Britain.

In 1964, he and his family were banned from South Africa, so they moved to the newly-independent Zambia, where he continued his work as a musician and writer, but also became a presenter for Radio Zambia.

By the time of Matshikiza’s death in 1968, aged just 47, he and his writing were still banned in his home country – but his legacy lives on.

Doodle artist Vlahakis said he hoped his illustration "brings honour to [Matshikiza]'s legacy and contributions."

"I hope people realise that the continent of Africa has an amazing amount of creativity, love, resilience, warmth, and radiant power and that our stories matter."

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