The first instrument he played was drums, then switched to the bass which his father also played.  Despite finding the piano initially intimidating, he embraced its complexity.  What motivated him even further was a performance he witnessed at high school by a Jazz trio led by an accomplished pianist.  That performance increased his love for the instrument further.  Today he is studying music majoring in Jazz Piano.

Soweto born pianist Makgashule Thothela is a Christian who finds joy in art, especially photography, and has an appreciation for fashion.  Despite being a friendly person, he can be shy at times.  “I prefer to stay indoors but enjoy outings with cousins and friends from time to time”, he told Jazz It Out.  His sister has a beautiful singing voice, and his brother enjoys producing beats as a hobby.  Even though his bassist father was not a professional musician, he knew musicians such as McCoy Mrubata, Ringo Madlingozi, PJ Powers and Oliver Mtukudzi.  Bob Marley was played regularly at his household.

Pianist Makgashule Thothela. Picture by Ayanda Mfiki

When he was at primary school, running was his favourite sport.  High school memories are filled with Hip Hop and Amapiano.  “Artists like Kabza De Small, MFR Souls, Drake, Big Sean and many artists that were prominent at the time”, he recalls.  His first direct experience with music was when he played drums at church.  He lost interest in drums and quickly switched to the bass.  “Although I liked the bass, I realized that it was not an instrument I intended playing for a long time”, he said.

Makgashule started attending piano lessons at a classical music school.  He stopped playing when he was at Grade 7 only to resume at Grade 10.  This was when he enrolled at Thaba Jabula Secondary School.  The thought of him pursuing music as a career never crossed his mind until a life changing experience he witnessed.  One day, The Bokani Dyer Trio and Nomfundo Xaluva came to perform at his school.  “I was so fascinated to see what Bokani was doing on the keys.  He was playing rootless voicing, chords substitutes and great techniques that were unfamiliar”, he said.

A much young younger Makgashule and his friends watching a performance by Bokani Dyer. Picture supplied

The trio that included drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko and bassist Romy Brauteseth left the young high school learner in awe.  After that performance, he did a research which revealed that Dyer studied jazz piano at the University of Cape Town.  He also discovered that Mazibuko and Brauteseth also studied music.  What was also exciting was that pianists Nduduzo Makhathini and Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane were former University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students.  This inspired him to apply at UKZN School of Music.

His parents never stood in his way to enroll for music.  He was accepted as a B Music student majoring in Jazz piano at UKZN and is under mentorship of pianists such as Mashiloane and Neil Gonsalves.  His enrolment coincided with virtuoso Nduduzo Makhathini joining the tertiary institution as a lecturer which was quite exciting.  In 2023, he showcased his talent on a grand scale, performing at the Durban ICC alongside respected gospel and jazz musicians like Dumi Mkokstad, Ntokozo Ngomane, Mthobisi Mthalane and Andile Yenana.

The Art Messengers. From left to right – Thembalethu Bhengu, Makgashule Thothela, Kgothatso Tumisang Mosome, Sifundo Myeza and Zolile Mgqatsa. Picture by UKZN Press

Makgashule firmly believes perceptions that Jazz only appeals to the older generation must constantly be challenged. Jazz has a special message to someone listening to it, whether its creativity or the emotion it brings out.  “When doing research on Hip Hop and Amapiano, you will find that some of the producers listen to Jazz, and listening to these two genres, you will sometimes hear Jazz expression, more especially with Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Masego in a way this means we do listen to Jazz”, he explained.

His favourite musicians are Afrika Mkhize, Nduduzo Makhathini, Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane, Bokani Dyer, Peter Martin, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Kirkland and Michel Petrucciani.  When he is not studying or performing, he watches Netflix, bowling and ice skating.  Some of his plans in the coming years include teaching music, composing and working with different musicians.  His Facebook account is Makgashule Magesh Tht.  Follow him on Instagram @lebowmagesh