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Profile of Jonas Gwangwa
So intense and rousing were Jonas Gwangwa’s instrumental tunes, that the apartheid censorship machinery banned his records without bothering to check the lyrical content. The album was mostly instrumental but the revolutionary verve could not be mistaken: here was music inspired and fed by a people’s thirst for liberation.
Gwangwa and many other musicians managed to sing down apartheid, as it were. In their music lay the stirring account of the struggle against racial oppression in South Africa. For every song, there was pain, for every tune there was joy and heartbreak as South Africans at home and abroad sought solace and encouragement.
Gwangwa is today a renowned, accomplished and versatile jazz musician, composer, arranger and trombonist. One song that continues to reverberate with emotive melody is the aptly titled Flowers of the Nation. Believing that "politics and culture cannot be separated", Gwangwa’s total commitment to the struggle to end apartheid was thus intrinsic to his music.
This South African paragon has enthralled audiences around the world with his artistry as a composer and all-around creative genius. For over 30 years, he was to travel the world as an exile, collecting accolades wherever he went.
Gwangwa narrowly escaped death in 1985 when his home was blown up by South African security forces.
A product of the turbulent but musically significant 1950s, Gwangwa emerged from the humble environs of Orlando East in Soweto.
He delighted audiences in Sophiatown until it became illegal for black people to congregate and South African musicians were jailed merely for practising their craft. In spite of the restrictions, he established and played with virtually every important band of the era, and such icons as Kippie Moeketsi, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Gertze and Makhaya Ntshoko. Gwangwa has also been a compatriot of famous musicians, including Ahmad Jamal, Herb Alpert, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Caiphus Semenya.
His lifework crystallised when he served as composer, arranger and musical director of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, the liberation movement’s group – an impassioned chronicle of the role of music as a means of protest and survival through more than 40 years of struggle against apartheid
With George Fenton, Gwangwa created the original score and theme song for the much heralded Richard Attenborough film,
Cry Freedom, which received Academy, Grammy, Bafta, Golden Globe and Anthony Asquith Award nominations and won the Ivor Novello and Black Emmy awards.
Gwangwa returned to South Africa in 1991 and he continues enhancing and promoting local culture.