“He was just 9 years old when Jerry ‘Bra Monk’ Molelekwa chose him as one of his mentees at primary school.  A few years later he joined Moses Taiwa Molelekwa Art Foundation. Ofentse’s curiosity to learn more about music earned him membership of Taiwa Jazz Band.  In 2018 he performed his own composition at two festivals where he received standing ovations. Earlier this year, he won a saxophonist scholarship competition that was held in Dubai”

Tembisa born tenor saxophonist Ofentse Sebola will be turning 21 in September.  Despite his young age, the 3rd year music student at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT has already made a name for himself as a brilliant, focused and ambitious musician.  He describes himself as a “curious and optimistic young man chasing a dream”.  From Grade 8 he earned himself the nickname “Saxo”. He would bring his saxophone to school and the teachers asked him to play it while his classmates watched in admiration.

His early childhood was ordinary. Parents, two siblings, two elder brothers and a younger sister.  Even though his family was not very big in music, he enjoyed the sounds of Hip Hop and R’n B because that is what his elder brothers listened to.  At school he was naughty and often got himself in trouble, yet never lost his focus on the studies. Ofentse also tried to play sport but it did not work for him. Like most townships, Tembisa had a lot of taverns that played different types of music including jazz and house music.

Saxophonist Ofentse Sebola

He recalls the day Jerry ‘Bra Monk’ Molelekwa, the father of the late Moses ‘Taiwa’ Molelekwa came to his primary school looking for learners to take under his musical wing and mentor.  “I was one of those chosen.  That was in 2009 and I was a 9-year-old Grade 4 learner”, he told Jazz It Out.  When this programme that saw him selected was stopped a year later, Ofentse continued to take lessons that Molelekwa gave at the art centre.  In 2012, he joined the Moses Molelekwa Art Foundation which meant that for five years, while most of his peers went home when school was finished, he would go to the art foundation to learn music.

When most of the students were finished with their daily musical lessons at the art foundation, Ofentse would stay behind and witness the Taiwa Jazz Band practicing.  His quest for musical knowledge was rewarded one day when Molelekwa asked the youngster to join the band in their practice.  “I was dead nervous because all the saxophone players in the band were more experienced and older than I was”, he said.  ‘Bra Monk’ was so impressed with his young student and made him a permanent member of the band.

The rest of the Taiwa Jazz Band members were drummer Boy Mokhatla, flautist Tseleng Mokhatla, vocalist Ntsiki Mqaba, pianist Nkululeko ‘BluShift’ Magagula, bassist Mpho Mashigo, trombonist Kgethi Nkotsi, alto saxophonist Levi Mabusela and trumpeter Mbuso Shongwe.  The band shared stages with prominent jazz artists such as Nduduzo Makhathini, Yonela Mnana, Feya Faku and Sydney Mnisi. “I learned a lot from the Moses Molelekwa Art Foundation and as member of Taiwa Jazz Band. I carry the lessons from Mr Molelekwa every day of my life as a musician”, he said.

Taking care of the instrument that has earned him adoration

In 2017 he was chosen to be part of the Standard Bank National School’s Big Band under the leadership of Kelly Bell that travelled to Makhanda (then Grahamstown) to participate in Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival.  He recalls the experience with fond memories.  Michael Hoyle and Thamie Mahlangu gave him lots of motivation and helped with the charts as he was struggling to read music then.  The whole experience of being part of a big band was so overwhelming for the young saxophonist. “Michael Hoyle and Kelly Bell taught me how to play in a big band and most importantly that it was not just about me but every single member”, he recalls.

Even though it was clear Ofentse had the qualities of a musician while at high school, he still had to convince his parents that he wanted to study music after matric.  “It was hard convincing my mom and dad but they eventually saw that I loved music dearly and gave me the blessing to pursue my studies”, he told Jazz It Out. He enrolled for a National Diploma in Jazz and Popular Music at TUT where he is doing his final year.  Ofentse says all the music students at the tertiary institution are like his extended family because they have a lot in common and are driven by the same passion.

His talent was again rewarded in 2018 when he became part of the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Band that performed at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Band in Makhanda and the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in Sandton under the leadership of Amanda Tiffin.  These will always be memorable appearances for Ofentse because he received standing ovations for performing his own composition titled “Lost Souls” at both festivals. “At first, I was reluctant to perform the tune in Makhanda but when my fellow band members heard me playing it at rehearsal, they felt the audience needed to hear the tune and the picture it painted”, he said. By the time they performed it in Sandton, he was oozing with confidence.

Ancestors Danced Bitsang Badimo by IT HAS TO BE JAZZ

Some of the artists he is grateful to have performed with include Viwe Mkizwana, Kamo Matsoso, Keorapetse Kolwane, Teboho Kobedi, Nhlanhla Manana, Rorisang Sechele, Bokang Ramatlapeng and Thamie Mahlangu.  He also credits Mahlangu for introducing him to the music of another saxophonist Keith Garrett.  Recently he became part of the recording “Ancestors Danced Bitsang Badimo” by IT HAS TO BE JAZZ, which included legendary trumpeter, conductor and teacher Prince Lengoasa.

Earlier this year, Ofentse won the Yamaha Gulf Saxophone scholarship competition that was held in Dubai under the guidance of Prof Karen Devroop and Thamie Mahlangu.  He wishes to release music after completing his diploma at TUT and learn from the legends in the industry on how to take his career to the next level.  Despite being known as a jazz artist, the other side of him loves R’n B, Neo Soul, Hip Hop and Deep House.  Ofentse has also been learning to do film scoring which he hopes to master as time goes on.

Thamie Mahlangu, Sisonke Xonti, Kagiso Ramela, Simon Manana, Tshepo Tsotetsi, Mthunzi Mvubu, Linda Sikhakhane, Krzysztof Urbański, Braxton Cook, Kirk Whalum, Soweto Kinch and Hailey Niswanger are some of his favourite saxophonists.  Ofentse’s Facebook account is Moses Ofentse Sebola.  Follow him on Instagram @ofentse_sebola and on Twitter @Sebola_MOSAX