“Andile Qongqo grew up in one of the toughest neighbourhoods. His parents had very firm principles and wanted to raise children that were well behaved. The surroundings did not prevent him from playing soccer, boxing, cricket and being an athlete. His love for the keyboard was inspired by a young man he saw having a time of his life playing the instrument at church”
The Bloemfontein born and raised composer, pianist, music director, arranger and educator recalls how the presence of notorious gangs and the constant raids by apartheid security forces would bring constant fear to the residents of Batho. “But through all those difficulties, the love for music was always strong”, he told Jazz It Out. His mother was a cleaner and his late father was a driver. “My grandfather was a composer whose work focused on composing for his church”, he added.
Andile also sang in church choirs and various music groups. Even though he doesn’t consider himself much of a singer, he can hold a note. At primary school, he played a lot of sport and was part of the science club when he went to high school. It was also at high school that he got exposed to different music genres such as jazz, bubblegum, gospel, choral, RnB and kwaito. Some of his favourite artists included Dennis Mpale, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Boys II Men, TKZee and Trompies.
His wish was to study towards Information Technology, Computer Science and even dreamt of being an air traffic controller. Now that he is a pianist, he realizes that his fascination with these careers had to do with pressing keys on the keyboard. However, Andile took a decision that did not go well with his parents at first. “I told them I wanted to study music with the piano as my instrument of choice”, he recalls. They asked him if he knew anyone who had made a career out of music but his mind was made up.
What concerned Andile’s parents even more was that he had left a full-time paying job to pursue his music studies. He enrolled for a Licentiate from Trinity College London (LTCL). Studying jazz in a classically dominated area made it difficult for Andile to create tight bonds with peers at the institution. While studying, he was a member of several bands and performed at weddings. He also formed trios, quartets and quintets. His love for composing saw him performing the role of director at various concerts and musicals.
As a pianist, Andile has played with Mlungisi Gegana, Denny Lalouette and opened for Bokani Dyer and Nduduzo Makhathini. He has also worked with the likes of Gloria Bosman, Loyiso Bala, Elvis Blue, Angelique Kidjo, Free State Symphony Orchestra to name a few. “I have also directed and composed music for adaptations of “Sophiatown The Musical”, “Jungle Book” and many more with talented theatre director Masedi Godfrey Manenye”, he said.
In the early to mid 2000s, Qongqo was a session pianist for numerous artists. After realizing that he was not credited as a composer by some of them, he stopped participating in the sessions to spend time learning about the business of music. When the time to release his debut album arrived, he was more informed about how the music industry works to avoid possible exploitation.
“The Signature” is the title of his debut album that he released in 2018. It was initially supposed to be recorded as a trio, but because of the clashing of schedules with other musicians and the limited budget, he chose to release it as a solo piano project. “Through the album, I wanted to narrate my African story, my own way”, he told Jazz It Out. The tune “Ezasekhaya” is made up of strong African tones and rhythms. “I wanted to remind the world what the piano sounds like when playing African”, he added.
“Song for Noel” is dedicated to a prolific pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, and Bloemfontein based lecturer Noel Stockton whom he describes as his mentor. “Blues for Bheki” is dedicated to a man who influenced his playing and composing abilities, the late accomplished pianist and composer Bheki Mseleku. As part of promoting the solo piano album, Andile took pictures with some of the people who purchased his recording and posted them on social media.
The album received four nominations at the 2019 Mzantsi Jazz Awards. These nominations were for best jazz album, best male jazz artist, best newcomer in jazz, and best contemporary jazz album. Even though he did not walk away with an award at the ceremony, he was very humbled by the nominations considering the caliber of musicians he was nominated with. “I took the nominations as a good motivation to continue doing what I love to do”, he said.
For his next projects, he plans to use his full surname instead of going by the name of Andile Q. He is usually addressed by his peers and students as “Q” or “Mr Q”. Even though he acknowledges that his surname is not the easiest to pronounce by some, he believes that “if people can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky properly, they may as well as learn to pronounce Qonqo”. 2020 saw him releasing the single “Heel the Land” which is something he feels South Africa needs in order to become a better country.
Andile encourages musicians to embrace digital platforms such as Spotify in order to sell their music. CD sales have been declining globally and they continue to do so. Streaming has become a way of life for consumers of music and he believes recording artists that ignore this platform are missing out on reaching their fans. He definitely knows how using streaming and being active on social media can be an advantage to his career and sales. Qongqo also believes that “jazz is freedom, free state of mind, free state of being”.
He thinks jazz will grow bigger if South Africans appreciate their own artists. Andile is grateful for the nominations he received from Mzantsi Jazz Awards which played a positive role in making his album popular. “We have some of the best jazz artists in this country and some have more international acclaim than right here at home”, he told Jazz It Out. His tune “Blues for Bheki” was featured on Apple Music’s “Jazz Scene: South Africa” and “Mzansi Jazz” playlists. Andile believes that there must be policies to compel radio stations to play more local content.
Bheki Mseleku, Bokani Dyer, Nduduzo Makhathini, Afrika Mkhize, Michel Camilo, Oscar Peterson, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Hiromi Uehara and Eldar Djangirov are just some of Andile’s favourite pianists. Through his blog, he covers a lot of aspects of the music industry and reaching more people than he would in his classes. “My target audience is any musician that wants to learn from other musicians”, he said. He started the blog because he felt there is never sufficient time to discuss most topics in his classes because of time constraints.
Andile Qongqo performing Blues for Bheki
Through his teaching at Free State Music Academy which was made possible by Ronella van Rensburg, he has formed close ties with his current and former students including Thapelo Mofokeng, Thapelo Khumisi and Siyabonga Mazibuko. In his spare time, Andile enjoys taking scenic drives with his family. His daughter always dictate that he plays the tune “Lullaby for Laika” which is he dedicated to her. He also enjoys photography which he believes is an art form on its own, and enjoys reading and watching documentaries.
Follow Andile on Instagram @andileqmusic. Like his Facebook Page @andileqmusiq. Connect with him on LinkedIn Andile Qongqo. Subscribe to his YouTube channel Andile Qongqo. Visit his blog firstname.lastname@example.org to read all the articles he shares with musicians and those that have an interest in music as an artform.