Ramakgobotla John Mekoa (1945 - )
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Ramakgobotla John Mekoa
Ramakgobotla John Mekoa was born in Etwatwa, Benoni on 11 April 1945. He developed a passion for jazz music at an early age. His dream was to study jazz and become a professional jazz musician. However, the colour of his skin was an impediment as far as the pursuit of his professed dream was concerned. Mekoa founded and built a music school that focuses on developing young aspiring jazz musicians in South Africa.
From an early age, Mekoa wanted to become a jazz musician. In 1964 he tried to enrol for a course in music but was turned away because he was black. Mekoa was shattered; the probability of living his dream was becoming very thin. However, he decided to hold on to his dream and his brother gave him informal jazz lessons. During this time, he would play for audiences at nightclubs across Johannesburg.
In 1991 he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Music at the then University of Natal (now called University of KwaZulu-Natal), at the age of 41. He obtained a Fulbright Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Music at Indiana University in the United States. He returned home and established the Music Academy of Gauteng in 1994.
It has become a centre of jazz excellence, with luminaries such as Malcolm Jiyane, Mthunzi Mvubu, Mpho Mabogoane (female trombonist), Nthabiseng Mokoena and Linda Tshabalala (both female saxophonists), to mention but a few. The centre has also focused on teaching jazz music to children from impoverished backgrounds.
Mekoa identified their talents and nurtured them to become the thoroughgoing jazz musicians that they are today. This is a story of hope that the South African society should pride itself on. Mekoa’s excellent work has seen his centre being awarded the prestigious International Jazz Education Network Award in five consecutive years. The renowned American jazz legend Quincy Jones, who is in the advisory board of Jazz Education Network, takes pride in the achievements of the academy. The University of Pretoria and University of South Africa have respectively also bestowed Mekoa with two honorary doctorates, for his excellence in music and contribution to society.