South African jazz has been appreciated by global audiences because of its unique style which is expressed through the music.  To a certain extent, the American jazz has made an influence to the South African jazz if one reads how certain music styles were derived from American music such as Marabi for an example.  Through improvisation, South African jazz artists have managed (some without any formal training) to add their names in this country’s music history.

In its early years, South African jazz relied on live performances for the musicians to make a living and audiences access it.  Years later, record companies woke up to the realization that recording this increasingly popular music was a viable option for their companies.  Unfortunately, some musicians were made to sign recording deals which were never properly explained to them, giving all the copyrights to the record companies.  

Freelance journalist and cultural activist, Struan Douglas, who specializes in South African jazz and African music, decided to write two books which are The Story of South African jazz Volume 1 (published in 2015), and Volume 2 (published in 2019).  This was after a strong persuasion from penny whistler, vocalist, guitarist and trumpeter Elias Ngidi. Struan is also a trumpeterThese books are self-published under his  As a blog that promotes love and appreciation of jazz, especially South African jazz, we went through both Volume 1 and Volume 2 to read about the genre from its early days till the music was turned into a sustainable career and business.

The Story of South African jazz Volume 1

After urban centres where people from diverse cultures and races such as Sophiatown in Johannesburg, Marabastad in Pretoria, District Six in Cape Town, and Umkhumbane in Durban were demolished to make way for residential area reserved for Whites only, some musicians were forced to look for 9 – 5 jobs.  They were forced to abandon their careers and a lot was lost in the process.  Those that were committed to continue working their craft were forced into exile and exposed the atrocities that were committed in their country of birth in their adopted countries, and called for organizations that were formed of promoting equal rights at global level to condemn such acts of brutality.  Togetherness was destroyed by separateness.  As Struan aptly states that Jazz was an expressive force seeking mutual and social equality, something that apartheid hated.

Those musicians that chose to remind in the country, commonly referred to as “inxiles”, kept the jazz music alive in the country.  Inxiles received less acknowledgement despite the incredible talent they had and often struggled to perform to audiences of all races they were used to before the Group Areas Act was legislated.  Much to their embarrassment and humiliation, some were forced to perform behind because their skin colour did not permit them to perform in areas where white people resided.

This saw many recordings of liberation music whose content highlighted the human rights abuses that were committed in South Africa.  The number of voices condemning these human rights abuses grew bigger.  Many artists performed in concerts that were organized to demand the release of political prisoners and unbanning of political parties.  When it became evident that change was inevitable, music that were living in exile returned back to the country.  Jazz clubs were opened in cities that were patronized by returning political activists, and those that wanted to witness the events in a country that was taking a different direction.

Journalist and author Struan Douglas

Struan reflects on the era and quality of journalists Drum had in its early years as a magazine when Jim Bailey came to Johannesburg (from Cape Town) to start the publication.  Drum Magazine was a great African success story.  One of its journalists was Todd Matshikiza who was also a musician, writer and composer, whose rhythmical infections jazz writing brought the personal victories of many artists to the public.  Their photographers were just as distinguished as their writing colleagues.  Drum had renowned journalists Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Casey Motsisi, Bloke Modisane, Nat Nakasa, Lewis Nkosi and Es’kia Mphahlele.  Their well captured images were taken by photographers Peter Magubane, Jurgen Schadeberg and Bob Gosiame.

Cape jazz is an integral part of South African jazz.  Researcher Valmont Layne believes that the development of South African jazz as an idiom took off from the 40s onwards.  Groups such as Jazz Maniacs, and later Jazz Epistles, as well as individual artists Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela could practice their music with a relative degree of freedom.  At the end of the 50s and 60s, Cape Town became one of the last places for a multi-racial, nation building, jazz idiom.  Fellow researcher Collin Miller argues that jazz is a black African music because people were denied freedom of speech and music became a form of expression.  Historian Vince Kobbe asserts that the apartheid system was not designed to produce black musicians but black labourers.  However, music was played at weddings and funerals.  When it became marketable it was called township jazz and marabi.

Dolly Rathebe reflects on the life lived in Sophiatown with vocalists Miriam Makeba and Thandi Klaasen.  The place was also home to pianists like Sol Klaaste and Gideon Nxumalo.  Thandi Klaasen describes Sophiatown as a very beautiful place.  Musicians, artists, intellectuals, writers, politicians and boozers used to visit Sophiatown to watch bands like Jazz Maniacs.  Struan also conducted an interview with Rufus Khoza who was with the Manhattan Brothers.  Their style of music and the way they dressed was largely influenced by the American way of doing things, yet they managed to add their own distinctive personality.

Theo Bophela narrates the story of how people were forcefully moved from Umkhumbane, Cator Manor and relocated to places like Chesterville.  Umkhumbane was a vibrant residential area which had school teachers, lawyers, all professionals, gangsters, shebeen queens and anything you can think of.  Not wanting to be silenced by apartheid, Miriam Makeba went into exile where she enjoyed international recognition.  Chris McGregor talks about the formation of Blue Notes with a star-studded line up of musicians Johnny Dyani, Louis Moholo, Dudu Pukwana and Barney Rachabane.  The group played at prestigious festivals abroad to audiences who appreciated their performances.

The Story of South African Jazz Volume 1

In an interview that Struan had with Sathima Bea Benjamin, the vocalist talks about her illustrious career abroad, the musicians who played a significant role in her career, and striking a balance between her profession and family as ex-wife to Abdullah Ibrahim and mother to Tsakwe and Tsidi.  When Struan made an appointment to interview pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, he must have remembered Valmont Layne’s words who described the icon as a “very difficult guy to interview”.  He writes about Ibrahim character trait which he was not witnessing for the first time. 

Some of the famous inxiles (those that chose to remain in the country) include saxophonists Barney Rachabane and Winston Mankunku Ngozi.  Douglas describes Mankunku Ngozi as a prolific composer and performer who played with everybody and inspired many with his orchestral compositions of walking bass weeping horns.  Mankunku was 24-years-old when he recorded his famous album “Yakhal’Inkomo” in 1968.  Because of the separateness which was driven by apartheid, he occasionally played behind curtains under the alias ‘Winston Man’ to conceal his race.

In an interview that Struan conducted with prolific pianist and composer Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, the Tembisa born musician talks about his love for other music genres such a reggae and rock, as well as appreciation for diverse cultures in South Africa.  All the albums he recorded were different in their approach and as a result appealed to a wider audience.  His death and that of his wife Flo on 14 February 2001 was a huge loss to the jazz fraternity.  Saxophonist Moses Khumalo was in Moses Molelekwa’s band.  He confirmed Molelekwa’s appreciation for other music genres, citing the techno beat made by the drum and bass on “Spirits of Tembisa”.  Khumalo went further to describe his former bandleader as someone who had a free spirit.  He would see him sitting with beggars, giving them food.  Molelekwa was kind and gentle person.  After releasing two brilliant albums, Khumalo was found dead at his Honeydew home.

Trumpeter Marcus Wyatt was around 11 or 12 when he was given a cornet to play.  He wanted to be a drummer, but there were no drums available.  Wyatt has a classical background and played in the brass band.  He noticed that playing a trumpet was a serious workout technique wise.  After finishing school, he enrolled at UCT.  The trumpet constantly presented him with technical issues and had to put a lot of effort in getting to play the instrument right.  He credits Dr Kebberly for teaching him about the sound and making music as opposed to playing notes.  Marcus would listen to Miles Davis and Clifford Brown.  He makes a confession that he failed scales in all his exams.  It was only when someone actually explained to him why they learn scales that they became easy.  Before that, it was like an exercise and he didn’t understand why he needed to learn it.

The Story of South African jazz Volume 1 is a very insightful book which takes the reader to the origins of jazz in this country such as marabi, kwela, pennywhistle, goema, maskandi and mbaqanga.  It’s a story of bravery, resilience and sheer determination by jazz musicians to express themselves through the artform.  Jazz is a music genre that brought people from all races and different cultures together.  While the apartheid government was doing its best to undermine the importance of jazz in this country, it gained global recognition.  A highly recommended book for those that want to know how this genre made its way to audiences.

The Story of South African jazz Volume 2

Struan makes s statement many in the jazz fraternity can relate to very well.  He writes that within the South African Jazz family, there are many examples of those who give service to others and sacrifice personal gain for the benefit of all.  Many have taken great personal, economic and social risks to further the ideals of human harmony, self expression, equal opportunity, awareness and growth.  Douglas further states that the power of jazz is typically an alchemical journey.  Loneliness, sadness, pain and brokenness can be transformed through music, to acceptance, forgiveness and realization.

The Story of South African jazz Volume 2 is focusing on the business side of jazz.  Douglas wrote the book in Johannesburg which is business oriented.  However, it does include stories about Durban, Cape Town and other African countries.  Volume 2 is also about legacy and respect to the elders who made an indelible mark in the jazz fraternity.  Stories in Volume 2 are also divided into six rays, which are the golden era, exiles and inxiles, liberation era, freedom generation, co-creation, and the educational approach.

One of the great musicians to come from South Africa is saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi.  He played for The Band in Blues.  After it disbanded, he joined the Harlem Swingsters.  After the Harlem Swingsters disbanded, he joined The Manhattan Brothers and later became a member of The Jazz Epistles which included pianist Dollar Brand (before he changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim), trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa and drummer Makhaya Ntshoko.  The Jazz Epistles was one of the best groups to come from South Africa.

Struan looks at the Miriam Makeba’s legacy, describing her as South Africa’s most globally acknowledged singer.  Makeba visited Venice in 1959 and never returned.  Her album “Evening with Harry Belafonte” won a Grammy Award.  The recording featured compositions from Jonas Gwangwa.  Mama Africa sang many South African protest songs.  In 1965, she recorded live at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Ghana.  Unlike some musicians who discouraged their offspring to follows in their career footsteps because of the risks associated with the industry, Makeba encouraged her daughter Bongi to become a singer.

As a businesswoman, she saw far into the future.  She opened Makeba Music Corporation in 1961 while residing in New York.  She integrated music and business by starting in Guinea in the 70s.  Makeba formed the intellectual property trust the ZM Makeka Trust and its exclusive licensee, Siyandisa Music with the instructions: “to recover all her work”.  Returning from exile, Makeba recorded three final albums and performed throughout the last two decades of her career in a twenty-piece band, which included her closest family members, grandchildren, Lumumba and Zenzi Lee, and great grandchild, Lindelani Lee.

A very young Hugh Masekela went to watch the movie “Young Man with the Horn”.  The movie is a story of trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke, starring Kirk Douglas and Doris Day, with the trumpet parts played by Harry James.  The movie inspired Masekela to play the instrument.  As a teenager, he had a major breakthrough when Louis Armstrong responded to an advert in Drum Magazine calling for a new trumpet for the young Masekela.  Armstrong donated a trumpet and Father Trevor Huddleston arranged to collect it from him in Ghana.  After receiving formal music education in London, Masekela went on self-imposed exile and lived in New York.  It was in the Big Apple where he met trumpeter Miles Davis who discouraged him from playing American jazz, advising him to play his African music.  The rest in history.

The Story of South African Jazz Volume 2

Dorothy Masuka’s heritage is quite interesting.  She was born to a Zambian father and a South African mother and raised in Zimbabwe.  As a result of this, she called herself the indigenous African girl.  At the age of 12, she left Zimbabwe to receive education in Johannesburg.  The sound of this train journey informed her first hit song “Hamba Nontsokolo” which was later recorded with The Golden Rhythm Crooners from Zimbabwe in 1952.  A number of Masuka’s compositions became part of Miriam Makeba’s repertoire.  When Masuka questioned the wrong she saw in the apartheid era through compositions such as “Lumumba” and “Dr Malan”, her songs were banned.  In 1961, she was forced into exile.  Within the African National Congress (ANC) in Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, New York and London, Masuka used musical performances to transcend segregation and she raised funds for the anti-apartheid struggle.

The role pianist Chris McGregor played in South African Jazz cannot be ignored.  Much of his music is from the Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath, released by Hazel Miller of Ogun Records.  He had a life-long friendship and collaboration with saxophonist Dudu Pukwana.  One of the people who played a supportive role to Chris was his wife Maxine.  She became manager, financial controller, legal advisor, press and booking agent, promoter, accommodation fixer and also driver of the kombi in which the band travelled around the country.  The Blue Notes performed at several festivals in South Africa and Europe.

Dudu Pukwana was a very outspoken about exploitation which frustrated many musicians.  Other band members included Louis Moholo and Johnny Dyani.  In 1986, Johnny Dyani died in Berlin.   In 1987, Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo and Dudu Pukwana reunited in the album “Blue Notes for Johnny”.  In 1990, Chris McGregor died in France and, only one month after his great friend, Dudu Pukwana had died in London.   This left Louis Moholo as the only survivor of the Blue Notes.

Photographer Ian Huntley recorded the previously hidden years of South African jazz inxiles.  He recorded the Cape Jazz scene that kept the fire burning at home during the dark days of apartheid, particularly the years 1964 – 1967.   The archive includes musicians such as flautist Robert Sithole, singer Donald Tshomela, trumpeter Robert Beer, guitarist Cyril Magubane, trombonist Bob Tizzard, saxophonist Cups ‘n Saucers Nkanuka, and drummer Maurice Gawronsky.  These inxile years were thought to be lost, hidden, stolen and destroyed until the Huntly photo book and musical archive emerged 47 years after the first recordings were made.  This added significantly to the history of South African jazz.  The archive consisted of sixty hours of recordings, made at live performances in Cape Town, between ’64 and ’67, and with two to four microphones on stage.

Another photographer whose images made him an icon is Peter Magubane.  Peter was 17 years when he left school to work at Drum Magazine.  He started as publisher Jim Bailey’s driver before Jurgen Schedeberg, who was in charge of the photography department, gave him free reign to learn the art of dark room and printing.  Peter described the camera as his gun.  His lens captured images of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.  The images immortalized the sacrifice of many South Africans, exposed apartheid, documented indigenous cultures and paved the way for transformation.  Magubane also worked with musicians throughout his career and during his banning orders in the 70s, helped with the management of the Julian Bahula and Philip Tabane collaboration, Malombo.  Bahula composed the song “Images of Magubane” and dedicated it to Peter.  He attended the inauguration of Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister of Zimbwabwe in 1980 where Bob Marley performed in front of the crowd.

Pianist Mike Perry shares his fond memories of the performances and recordings he made with saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi and some of the rumours that were spread about Mankunku which were far from the truth.  In the moving tribute, Mike states that the record company that recorded one of the best jazz recordings to come from South Africa “Yakhal’Inkomo” ripped Winston off.  The saxophonist never received royalties for the album.  That experience made Mankunku refuse to record more material soon after “Yakhal’Inkomo”.  It was almost two decades later when he went to the recording studio again.  In 1994, Mankunku received a token payment of R4000 which was organized by Christian Siren.

Bassist, composer, arranger and educator Lex Futshane stated his career as a trombonist in the Salvation Army.  The church expelled him after realizing he was there because of music not religion.  After the expulsion, he concentrated on the bass.   Him and Zim Ngqawana were born in the same year and grew up together.  Lex enrolled for music at University of Natal (now UKZN) and was lectured by Darius Brubeck.  This was the golden era of the tertiary institution which produced good musicians, including Neil Gonsalves, Roland Moses, Mageshen Naidoo, Victor Masondo, Lulu Gontsana, Rick Van Heerden and Melvin Peters.

Together with Pat Pasha, they put together a band called The Modern Jazz which included Wela Matomela, Peter Jackson, Bucs Gongco and Feya Faku in the 80s.  Futshane later formed Counter Culture with Vince Pavitt and Chris Metz from Iowa in the US.  They recorded “African Tributes”, paying tribute to South African composers.  This and the album “Art Deco”, was released on Melt 2000 Records.  Lex also recorded live with Zim Ngqawana in Europe.

Struan with Yonela Mnana, Soultee Sisters, Tu Nokwe, Amajika and Vusi Mchunu. Picture by Phomolo Nzunga

Drummer Kesivan Naidoo started playing drums at the age of 10.  At 12, he got into the American jazz through listening to Philly Joe Jones and “Blue Trane”.  He was still in high school when he was introduced to Lulu Gontsana.  In matric, he met Kevin Gibson and Louis Moholo.  He enrolled at UCT and played as a sideman for the likes of Zim Ngqawana and Bheki Mseleku.  He later collaborated with Tribe, Closet Snare and Babu.  Being awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 2009 afforded him the platform to start The Lights.  In 2014, they released “Brotherhood” in reference to “Brotherhood of Breath”, with tribute tracks to Mseleku and Mankunku.  One of Kesivan’s concerns is that South Africa undervalues artists.  He feels some artists do not get recognition in their own country.

Carlo Mombelli’s contribution to music as successful bass player, band leader, and composer, bridging gaps between genres, musicians, audiences and students, was recognized when he was made a Professor of Music at Wits University in 2018.  He never had formal bass or compositions lessons.  Carlo picked up the rudiments from listening to and transcribing his vinyl collection.  While teaching at the Richard Strauss Conservatory of Music in Munich, Germany, he formed the band Prisoners of Strange with German drummer Wolfgang Haffner, Italian pianist Roberto di Gioia and Australian trombonist Adrian Mears.  The seminal session, featuring several of Mombellis best compositions “Bats in the Belfry” was recorded at the Bayerischen Rundfunk.

Kyle Shepherd is one of the best jazz artists to come from South Africa.  The Capetonian picks up on the many diverse influences of Cape Town, like the Khoi, Malay, Afrikaans and carnival.  These influences can be heard in his compositions.  His fourth recording is a double album titled “Dream State”.   It features Jonno Sweetman, Shane Cooper and Buddy Wells and was a game changer.   The album was recorded live in studio and sponsored by Standard Bank as part of the best young jazz artist award, it showed the power of hard work in self expression.  Kyle is part of many ensembles and is becoming internationally recognised, with regular tours to Switzerland, Germany and Japan.  He created the SWR New Jazz meeting in Germany, with Lionel Loueke from Benin, Shane Cooper, Jonno Sweetman and Mthunzi Mvubu.

In The Story of South African jazz Volume 2, Struan looks at the Barney Rachabane music dynasty.  His over six-year music career makes him one of South Africa’s jazz legends.  As a musical father, he has passed the musical message onto his children.  His gifted saxophonist son, the late Leonard Rachabane was a part of the explosion of jazz at UKZN in the late 80s.  He died far too young.  His daughter, songstress Octavia and grandson, penny whistler Oscar are seasoned entertainers.   When there was no income to build his family, Barney Rachabane had to be smart.  He had a corner shop and a curtain business.  Octavia started singing in jazz clubs at the age of 17.  In 2004, she sang in Louis Mohols’s historic “Back to the Roots” concert.

Barney Rachabane was one of South Africans Paul Simon invited to be part of the Graceland Tour.  Just like fellow saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Barney Rachabane did not receive some of his royalties, but remained committed to making music.  However, Paul Simon was a rare exception.  The former member of the duo Simon & Garfunkeltreated the musicians he worked with well.  They were well paid and credited.  Rachabane recalls leaving New York with a suitcase of money, which he used to renovate his house in Soweto.  Unfortunately, Simon himself was not treated well by his business associates and not all the royalties went where they were supposed to. 

Another very critical issue that Struan raises in the book is the jazz syllabus used to teach students at tertiary institutions.  In South Africa, jazz education does not yet comprise of a local syllabus.  The syllabus is US dominated because the theory and research is from abroad.   Abdullah Ibrahim argues that the best teachers of South African jazz are in the townships.  Johannesburg born American writer and educator, Seton Hawkins has played a leading role in promoting South African jazz music in the US and produced a very successful South African Jazz Songbook performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  Hawkins believes there is a future for SA jazz education.

The book also addresses historical legacy issues citing an example of the hit song “Mbube”.  The South African world of copyright made headlines when Owen Dean used the ‘Dickens’ clause to win back copyrights for this song which was composed by Solomon Linda.  Linda was born in Msinga in 1969.  He recorded with his vocal group The Original Evening Birds and was produced by Griffiths Motsieloa for Gallo Records.  Linda wrote and recorded “Mbube” in 1939.  The record “Mbube” sold 100 000 copies.  He died in 1962.  “Mbube” was picked up in America by Pete Seeger and the Weavers and performed as “Wimoweh”.  George Weiss added the lyrics of “The lion sleeps tonight” to Linda’s melody and took compositional rights to the song.

The song went on to be covered by dozens of artists including Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, The Tokens, Brian Eno and R.E.M.  According to Rian Malan in his article “In the Jungle” published in Rolling Stone Magazine, “Mbube” went on to amass $15M.   In the new millennium, a settlement sending royalties back to his family was eventually reached.  But the question in South African music rights remain, how many more musicians are these whose families have been short-changed?

Rob Allingham was chief archivist at Gallo records throughout the 90s.   Part of his brief was to handle the legacy of all artists complaining that they made records that sold millions in the 50s for a flat fee and never received royalties.  He made shocking revelations that the record industry all over the world is prone to shark dealing and there is no lack in this country.  For example, the head of Teal records, Gerald McGrath would regularly instruct his royalty clerks to under report sales, so he wasn’t paying as much money to the artists as they deserved.  Another friend of his caught Pierre Lombard at Meteor doing exactly the same thing.

After reading The Story of South African jazz volume 2 carefully, one starts making predictions about the future of jazz in this country.  This is mainly as a result of how the genre has evolved in the last few decades.  What is happening globally has a direct impact on what is happening in South Africa.  Jazz artists are more knowledgeable about copyright issues than those of the previous era. It is a career that must be sustainable at all times.  A great book to have as it continues the story of jazz in this country.

The books are selling for R250 each.  It can be purchased directly from the author.  Alternatively, you can buy the book from Amazon if you are outside of South Africa.  Books are also available from KZNSA in Durban, Clarke’s in Cape Town, Forge and Love Books in Johannesburg.   Struan Douglas is one Facebook.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @struhuru. Connect with him on LinkedIn.  Visit his websites and