Obituary: Koyo Bala trailblazing fighter for the right to be gay and proud of it

13 March 2016 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

Koyo Bala, who has died in Cape Town at the age of 39, was not necessarily among South Africa's most talented musicians. In a sense he was more than that. He was a trailblazer. With the energy and brightness of a comet he lit the way for those whose lifestyles, personal choices and eccentricities had confined them to the margins of society even in the supposedly liberated post-apartheid South Africa.Although he and his group 3Sum were the first openly gay band in Africa, and being proudly gay was very much part of it, his significance and the reason he made such an impact on the social scene went way beyond gay rights.It was about human rights. The right to be happy in your own skin. Bala was gloriously, unself-consciously, unapologetically happy with who he was. His music was part of this but it was only a vehicle for what he was really about, which was performance.If you wanted a living definition of performance art, Bala was it.He was born on October 25 1976 in Gugulethu, Cape Town, and matriculated at Langa High School. He had always been musically inclined, as well as feminine, eccentric, extroverted and determined to be himself.He was bullied sometimes, but not as much as might have been expected. His flamboyance and wit took the sails out of his tormentors, not to mention the obvious futility of their bullying.It was always clear that he never had the slightest intention of being anything other than what he was.He began studying business and accounting through Unisa but soon realised their limitations in terms of performance art.Partying was all he was serious about and when he moved to Johannesburg in search of fun in 1998 his studies were left behind.He and Amstel Makwane soon found each other on the dance floor of Tandoor, a nightclub in Rockey Street, Yeoville, and realised they were kindred spirits.Makwane, who was studying sports management at the University of the Witwatersrand, took Bala back to "her" flat in Hillbrow where he lived for a while.In 2000 the third and straightest member of the group, Jeff Moyo, arrived and, oozing style and bling, they took the party scene by storm.Music had nothing to do with their fame at this point. Makwane, who had been in the school choir before briefly joining a gospel band, was the only one with any kind of training.mini_story_image_vleft1Confident, energetic and media-savvy, they achieved minor celebrity status by being seen at every party, flaunting their sexuality, being ultra-stylish and hanging around established stars.Their energy and vibe attracted the attention of the media, which soon began calling them "the gay brigade".When they won SABC1 programme Selimathunzi's Duku Duku social butterfly award in 2002, their brand started trending on a weekly basis and they formed the group 3Sum the next year to capitalise on their fame.They were never the most vocally gifted band around and they knew it. They concentrated on what they were good at, which was stage technique, dance moves, styling, makeup and gimmicks.Pop icons Brenda Fassie (who died in 2004) and Lebo Mathosa (who died in 2006) had a lot to do with this. Their support, influence, advice and coaching were crucial. Bala worshipped Fassie and with his peroxide hair looked uncannily like her."My moffies," Fassie called them, and took them to her studio to record their first song, Sohlana Sizi Moffie (We will remain moffies). After hearing it, her record company signed a deal with them to produce their first album, Dirurubele (Butterfly), in 2004.They won a MetroFM award in 2005 in the category for best styled group. Their follow-up album, Vumani, was released in 2007, which was also the year they won the YFM Golden Circle Award for most entertaining news icons.By the time Moyo died at 33 in 2010, the three had already begun following separate paths.Bala was a stylist, motivational speaker and MC while maintaining the group. Moyo's death ended that.Bala, who never did drugs or touched alcohol, was the most lively of this extraordinarily energetic group. He had so much energy he was often suspected of being high. When asked, he would respond that he was on a "natural high".In 2011, he disclosed that he was HIV-positive. In 2014, he was diagnosed with anal cancer.He is survived by three sisters.1976- 2016..

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