“These days he is known as one the bass players with a bright future. But many are not aware that he played soccer at primary school.  He was part of the school team that won the Orange Farm Cup in his home township.  Just before he started high school, his interest switched from soccer to music. The young bassist is still an Orlando Pirates and Manchester City fan to this day”

Nhlanhla Manana has just sat for his final examinations towards a diploma in Jazz and Popular Music at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). The 22-year-old is founder of the A Generation Music Academy” which is a non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in Orange Farm which promotes good behavior among children at the township through playing music.  He has also started a brand “Uzuri” which aims to produce musical instruments and sound equipment.

His parents were renting a two-roomed house in Diepkloof Zone 2, Soweto, when Nhlanhla was born on the 22nd of December 1996.  He was just 7 years old when his family relocated to a small town of Orange Farm, a township 45 kilometres from Johannesburg where they were allocated a house of their own. But there was another reason for the move.  “We had a break in while staying in Soweto one evening where my dad sustained injuries after being shot in the hand”, Nhlanhla told Jazz It Out. The criminals took most of the items the Manana’s possessed.

At primary school is where Nhlanhla excelled in football winning the Orange Farm soccer cup with his school where he was a left back and midfielder.  By his own admission, he was a very naughty child oozing with confidence.  “I remember getting in trouble with the teachers because I had a big mouth and would make fun of my fellow learners and teachers”, with a giggle.  Despite being naughty, he was still very popular among the learners.

Nhlanhla Manana. Picture by Zakes Mahlangu

The youngster’s life took a different turn after his mother passed away in 2008.  He had to look after his younger brother Xolani after school while his dad was at work.  This meant there was no time for soccer.  Nhlanhla also started spending more time at church where he established his first contact with music.  His parents always had a passion for music.  “My mom would listen to everything from jazz, soul and R’n’B. I grew up in an environment where music was loved”, he said.

When Nhlanhla decided to shift his focus from soccer to music, his dad felt he should have continued playing the sport.  Besides the house chores that he had to perform, he started to fall in love with musical instruments.  Manana started with playing drums which was followed by the keyboard.  Upon realizing there was stiff competition for drums and keyboards, he decided to play the bass, a decision that was largely influenced by Pastor Richard Khanyile from his church. From there he never looked back.

He also started appreciating bass players such as Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten and Victor Bailey.  Besides his love for the bass, Nhlanhla also loved working on computers.  If it was not for the love of music, he would have enrolled for an IT or computer science qualification after finishing school.  He spent his first year after passing matric in 2015 at CJC Crown Mines where he was exposed to the first music theory lessons and jazz. “By this time my dad had made peace with the fact that I had chosen music as a career and was very supportive”, he told Jazz It Out.

He cares deeply for the youth of Orange Farm. Picture by Thabiso Moloi

The following year he moved to the executive capital where he enrolled for a National Diploma in Jazz and Popular Music at TUT.  He started doing gigs while still a first – year student.  For the first time in his life, Nhlanhla learned to play the double bass.  “I am very grateful for being exposed to performing at gigs while doing my first year.  It was great for my musical development”, he said.

Manana has already shared the stage with musicians such as Aus Tebza, Titi Luzipho and Spha Mdlalose.  He has also worked with other young musicians like Ncamisa Nqana, and Nomashenge Dlamini not only in jazz but in other genres such as hip hop. “I have also worked with an all – black orchestra called Anchored Sound.  These days he is just an average soccer fan unlike his much younger days at primary school.

Nhlanhla is part of a band called TreamDeam which includes Rorisang Sechele on vocals, Bongani Dube on percussions, and Lungelo Mashinini on keyboard. They are planning to release an album whose theme will be to celebrate the beauty of Africa.  One of the songs that is likely to be part of their debut album is “Naledi”, a tune Manana composed in the memory of his late mom.  He always finds a lot of excitement in playing music that is fresh and unknown with different musicians out of his comfort zone.  “These are the joys that come with being a session musician”, he told Jazz It Out.

TreamDeam performing the tune Naledi.  They are Rorisang Sechele on vocals, Nhlanhla Manana on bass, Bongani Dube on percussion and Lungelo Mashinini on keyboard. Video by Zakes Mahlangu

As a proud African, Manana created a brand called “Uzuri” whose aim is to celebrate the beauty of Africa. The whole concept behind “Uzuri” is to produce African indigenous instruments not only for the continent but the global market. He is working very closely with his fellow band member and percussionist Bongani Dube on this initiative.  The duo firmly believes there is a market to tap into through “Uzuri” which means “beauty” in Swahili.

One of his concerns is the lack of sponsorship for the “A Generation Music Academy”, and NGO he founded in Orange Farm.  Nhlanhla does however hope one day sponsors will come on board with the necessary resources that will include musical instruments and paying for the teachers at the ‘academy’. Passing his final exams and obtaining his diploma will likely give him more time to knock on the doors of potential sponsors.  Already, his younger brother Xolani is a keyboard player while his cousin Lundi has recently started to play bass.

Manana is not just a bass player and composer.  He is also a producer and film scorer.  Benjamin Jephta, Carlo Mombelli, Bakithi Khumalo and Nduduzo Makhathini are some of his favourite musicians.  Even though he feels jazz could grow at a faster pace, Manana is pleased that South African jazz is slowly becoming part of the global community.  He enjoys movies, working on the family garden and motivating young children.

Nhlanhla is very active on social media.  His Facebook account is Nhlanhla Profbass Manana.  On Instragram you can follow him @n_nhlanhla_prof and his Twitter handle is @nhlanhlaproff.  His band ‘s only social media account is on Instagram @TreamDeam.  Uzuri is on Facebook and Instagram which are both @uzuri2019.