This month you could win yourself a package to Capetown and get to watch some of the greatest Jazz musicians performing at the Capetown Jazz Festival.
The 40-year career of veteran composer, trombonist, bandleader and director Jonas Mosa Gwangwa, born in Johannesburg’s Orlando East township in 1937, epitomises the marriage of art and activism.
The two-time Oscar-nominee began playing while still at high school (St Peter’s College), in the Huddleston Jazz Band. He paid his dues in several well-regarded bands– but was also woodshedding in the modern jazz sessions at the Odin Cinema, eventually becoming a core member of the ground-breaking Jazz Epistles.
In 1961, he left South Africa as a cast member of the musical King Kong, eventually securing a scholarship to study at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York. During 15 years in the USA, Gwangwa composed and arranged music for, among many others, Miriam Makeba and, with the patronage and collaboration of singer Harry Belafonte, worked tirelessly to make America aware of the evils of apartheid.
From the military camps of Umkhonto we Sizwe across Africa, Gwangwa recruited, trained and directed talented young performers for the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, which toured the world raising awareness and thrilling audiences.
His work on the score of the film Cry Freedom won both the Ivor Novello and Black Emmy Awards, and was also nominated for Oscar, Grammy, and Ivor Novello, Anthony Asquith and BAFTA awards.
He composed music for the massive London Mandela 70th Birthday concert, for South Africa’s Olympic bid, for the launch of the National Coat of Arms and for many documentaries celebrating great South African lives and struggles.
Gwangwa holds honorary Doctorates from UNISA and Walter Sisulu University, received a meritorious award from then-president Nelson Mandela and the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold. He has released seven albums as leader since his return from exile.
The late producer Koloi Lebona described him as having “seen life’s sunshine and shadows and learned about himself along the way. The tales he tells through his music come from the heart.” But for him, as he told TimesLive “I never had the notion of being a big star or having big money. I was just into the music.”