Residents of Pretoria have a good appreciation for jazz which older generations pass to the younger ones as a way of restoring love for the genre. There is no way saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu could not have crossed paths with jazz. The 32-year-old husband, father, composer, arranger and producer was born in the township of Mamelodi east of the capital city. His dad would play vinyl records of different artists such as Brian Adams, Gene Ammons and Abdullah Ibrahim.
The first instrument he played while at school was the clarinet. He was a member of the big band called CAFCA, which was a school music project in Mamelodi. “It was Oscar Rachabane who made an impression on me in 2005 and I am still inspired to this day”, he told Jazz It Out. One of his highlights at high school was the chess club he started. Nhlanhla also began playing the saxophone. “I couldn’t wait for the school to finish to go and practice the instrument”, he said.
Saxophonist Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Picture by Kabelo Mokhatla
He was a 15-year-old Grade 10 learner when he first played the saxophone and was already enjoying the music of Charlie Parker. This made it easier for him to be drafted into his teacher’s jazz band. He quickly developed the love for jazz music and began playing at some Johannesburg clubs. Although he pursued jazz as his primary interest, he was influenced by a diverse range of musical sources such as gospel, classical, hip hop, kwaito, house, motswako which are very popular in the vibrant city of Pretoria.
After obtaining matric, Nhlanhla spent a few months studying electrical engineering at Tshwane North College. Few months down the line, he took a brave decision of pursuing music as a full- time career. “I believe all music is powerful if it is made by great artists”, he said. He worked with artists such as Afrika Mkhize, Nduduzo Makhathini and Benjamin Jephta in studio. “I learned to be patient and consistent with the craft”, he added. The artists he worked with played a very major role in taking his career to greater heights.
Nhlanhla has performed at the Cape Town Jazz Festival with drummer Louis Moholo, with pianist Afrika Mkhize at Grahamstown Jazz Festival, with Amandla Freedom Ensemble at Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and with vocalist Lindiwe Maxolo at the Joy of Jazz Festival. He is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.
Secret Love – Nhlanhla Mahlangu
The saxophonist thinks that New York and Pretoria are similar in many ways. “My friends in both cities really love music. They have distinct sense of fashion, are independent thinkers and have strong feelings about individualism”, he explained. Nhlanhla considers himself extremely lucky to always be in a company of great people and does not take that for granted. Some of the big names that have taught him in the Big Apple include Jon Faddis, Stefon Harris, Jaleel Shaw and Shaun Jones.
When he gets homesick, he plays “Beautiful Love” by saxophonist Zim Ngqawana and “Timelessness” by pianist Bheki Mseleku. He believes that artists must use different media platforms to their advantage as the world is battling with Covid. His plans for the next few years include making more great music. Nhlanhla’s hobbies outside recording, performing and studying music are photography, reading, travelling and spending time with his family. His Facebook account is Nhlanhla DaniMali Mahlangu. Follow him on Instagram @nhlanhladanimali and @NhlaDaniMali on Twitter.