Pianist, composer, arranger, producer and director Afrika Mkhize’s musical journey began at a young age of 11 when he first touched the ivory keys. He enrolled at Funda Music School in Soweto, diving into the intricacies of classical piano when he was 11. At 15, his passion for classical music led him to the National School of the Arts (NSA), where he achieved Grade 8 Theory at 16. While at NSA, he also delved into Jazz studies through the N-Course programme.

His wish to pursue music as a profession saw him enrolling at Pretoria Technikon (now called Tshwane University of Technology) where he studied Jazz, Composition and Arranging. At just 20 years old, he assumed the role of musical director and pianist for legendary Miriam Makeba, contributing arrangements for the Roma Philharmonic Orchestra in Italy at her behest. Afrika’s musical talents transcended genres as he ventured into film scoring, crafting music for productions like “Chicken Bizniz” and TV series “Fallen”.

Afrika Mkhize. Picture supplied.

Notably, his production of Tlale Makhene’s album “Ascension Of The Enlightened” earned him the prestigious Best Contemporary Jazz Award at the MTN SAMA Awards in 2005. His collaborations and performances span a vast spectrum of artists, including Jazz legends Sibongile Khumalo, Hugh Masekela, Simphiwe Dana, and RnB sensation TK, to name a few. Afrika’s orchestral arrangements have graced prestigious events like the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra tribute to women in the arts.

In 2012, Afrika was honoured with the “Standard Bank Young Artist Award”, recognising his exceptional contributions to the music landscape. His debut album, “Rain Dancer”, released in 2015, marked a significant milestone in his career, showcasing his multifaceted talents. He has collaborated internationally in projects like “The Rainmakers”, a Swiss-South African collaboration led by Bänz Oester, and arranging tributes to Jazz luminaries like Bheki Mseleku.

Afrika is a son of the pianist and composer Themba Mkhize who played for bands including Bayethe and Sakhile before embarking on a solo career. He is also father to a son Kwame who plays saxophone and drums. The 16 year old is taking formal lessons in saxophone from a tutor. Both Afrika and Kwame are passionate about music and enjoy cooking together when the pianist is not travelling. Jazz It Out spoke to father and son ahead of Father’s Day which is also Youth Day in South Africa.

Kwame Mkhize. Picture supplied

“Kwame is soft-spoken, respectful and considerate”, Afrika described his son. He enjoys spending time by himself on his computer learning coding which takes many hours. “I find this interesting because coding is similar to orchestration in terms of focus and dedication”, the proud father added. He misses days when his much younger son would ask him a lot of questions just about anything. “He now goes to Google to search for information”, with a chuckle.

“My dad is a very calm and reserved person but not shy. He is not the kind of person who talks loud and brags”, Kwame described his father. Both father and son are very curious when it comes to music. They like jamming together at every possible opportunity and both like the animated TV show “Death Note”. Despite Afrika’s extensive travelling due to his demanding career, Kwame would always ask his father questions revolving around Jazz and what it’s like to be a Jazz musician.

Both father and son agree that music is a calling. “I have been exposed to music since childhood and it’s definitely a calling”, said. “There’s no healing process without music. Ingoma ne sangoma (a song and healing) are two sides of the same coin”, Afrika added. He thinks his son will become a musician one day as he is already producing music in the studio. Kwame has considered film production but music is his top priority.

Afrika the piano genius. Picture supplied

Have they shared the stage? “I have played with both my parents once. It was a terrifying yet thrilling experience”, Kwame said. This was his second live performance as a musician. His mother is singer and composer Zenzi Lee, daughter of singer and composer Sbongile Makeba who passed away in 1985. Sbongile’s mom is legendary Miriam Makeba who passed away in 2008 when Kwame was only 6 months old. Kwame often ask his grandfather Themba questions related to music. The grandfather enjoys watching the grandson playing the piano.

Kwame is grateful for the lessons Afrika has taught him. “He always tells me that music is not everything. Living a balanced life is very important. You should make time for yourself and your family”, he explained. “I always tell my son to be himself, have self-love, learn as much as he can about this field which he also wants to join as a professional. Most importantly, he must have self respect for people to take him seriously”, Afrika said.

On this Father’s Day, Kwame has nothing but love for his father who is his role model. He enjoys the music of Butcher Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$ and Odwin. The young man who plays basketball at school told Jazz It Out that Mthunzi Mvubu is his favourite South African Jazz artist. His favourite international Jazz artists include Domi and JD Beck Band, Miguel Zenón, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah and Rodriguez. He is also an amateur film producer.

Kwame enjoys meditation since childhood. Picture supplied

On this Youth Day, Afrika wants Kwame to know that all Black struggles were fought by young people such as Steve Biko, Malcom X and many others. “Your youth is the best gift you will ever have. This is the time when plentiful idealism meets with bountiful energy which could be turned into reality for oneself and others. Providence is prodigious for all young South Africans”, he said.

The bookworm acknowledges that his own father Themba is a person who teaches by example instead of saying a lot of things. “My father is my best role model and have taught me a lot of things”, he said. Afrika’s favourite musicians are Themba Mkhize, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bheki Mseleku, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett. When he is not travelling, he enjoys hanging out with his old friends and having a braai with Kwame.