South Africa has a long list of jazz musicians that have made a name for themselves for their contribution to the industry. Besides being musicians in their own right, they also inspire and identify other musicians, and nurture them into becoming artists that play a role in this art form. These musicians respect their craft and other fellow musicians earning themselves even greater respect from the lager fraternity and receive wide recognition. They are generally regarded as mentors who always remain humble.
One of those musicians is Prince Lengoasa. The 55-year-old husband to wife Nomsa and father to daughters Mbali and Motheo as well as son Kagiso is a trumpeter, music teacher, arranger, and conductor who has worked with so many musicians. Marabi Jazz Lounge had a discussion with him at an East Rand coffee shop to hear his story and journey as a musician.
Lengoasa was born in Kwa-Thema to parents who lived in many parts of the country as both his parents are pastors in the Salvation Army. His 84-year-old father is Israel Lehlokoa and 78-year-old mom is Rosemary Thandekile. The first born in a family of seven siblings recalls that their households always had visitors almost every day. One of his younger siblings, Jerry Lengoasa, is the CEO of the South African Weather Service. His mother is a great cook who probably gave reasons for visitors to knock at the family home unannounced. “My dinner would be offered to the visitor and I would eat bread without complaining”, he said.
His mother is a great singer and his father is also a great musician who has a huge collection of records. “I was exposed to music from a very young age from my maternal and paternal uncles”, recalling his early childhood. At the age of six, he started playing the cornet and was taught by his father. By then, young as he was, he could read music. There were so many people around that taught him music. “My uncles are Meshack Lengoasa and a really funny person who played trumpet and Bobby Lengoasa who was a teacher and choir conductor”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge.
“Cyril Khumalo, a classical trumpet player and theory teacher, and Mzilikazi Khumalo, the composer and choir conductor who contributed to the South African National Anthem are uncles from my mother’s side”, he said. He describes himself as a true citizen of South Africa. Having been born in Kwa-Thema, the family would move to Pimville, Sharpeville, Galeshewe and at one stage resided in Mamelodi. It was in Galeshewe where he met the founder of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Robert Sobukwe. He recalls seeing Sobukwe wearing a neatly ironed shirt with a bow tie smoking a pipe and told the young Lengoasa that ‘education is very important’.
The different places the Lengoasa’s lived in gave Prince the exposure to all eleven official languages. He learned to speak all of them through interaction with school mates. “In Mamelodi for an example, I learned to speak SiSwati, XiTsonga, SePedi, TshiVenda and IsiNdebele. The advantage of having music instruments kept at his family home were so many. “At the age of six, I would play instruments at church”, he said. He always had someone training him.
Doing what he loves best at The Orbit
Initially, he wanted to become either an architecture or a civil engineer. But because of the meagre salary his father received as a pastor, that dream could not be realized. After matric, he went to work in a drawing office on the township electrification project which saw electricity installed to many households in Soweto on a massive scale. While at high school, he excelled in Maths and Technical Drawing. Years later, he found himself a job at his uncle’s architectural offices in Pretoria. “There’s a few houses in Soshanguve that I designed”, he added. He also had a brief stint with Canon Noyane, who was also had an architectural draughting office till 1987.
“In 1987, I started teaching trumpet lessons at Fuba School of Music in Johannesburg”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge. While at the school, he also worked with the late Johnny Mekoa. After three years, he joined Funda Centre where he also gave trumpet lessons. As a result of his contribution to the music industry as a teacher, the Wits University decided that there was no need for him to enroll for a junior degree. In 2007, the institution enrolled him for a two year honour’s degree in music. This year, he will enroll for a master’s degree at the institution.
Lengoasa describes himself as a versatile musician. He adds, “I grew up listening to classical music. I can play with any musician that is willing to work with me”. At the inaugural Tshwane International Big Band Festival held at Freedom Park in December last year, he was himself a conductor of one of the big bands that performed. He recalls vibraphonist Stefon Harris describing him as a one-step conductor as he was having fun and dancing while conducting.
He believes that his love for music and involvements with all generations and genres has enabled him to find expression and respect on many levels. The attitude and flexibility has also helped him to embrace each experience as a special moment. “As a musician, one has occupied many different roles and performing them with the same passion and zest has endeared one to many people”, he added.
Parktown High School for Boys is where he presently teaches music. He also has his own 7-piece band called Prince Lengoasa and the Ambassadors of Peace. They perform at several gigs where they perform a combination of South African and American standards. At a freelance level, he also does Louis Armstrong and Friends with Richard Cock and his Orchestra. He is also a member of Steve Dyer’s Mantswe, which is a band that seeks to revive Marabi music and bring it to a larger and younger audience.
Asked what needs to be done to preserve jazz in South Africa, he did not mince his words. He said younger musicians must pay homage to those artists that came before them. “They also need to interact and perform with older musicians in order to learn the ropes”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge. Lengoasa is extremely proud of exposing trumpeters such as Sydney Mavundla, Mzamo Bhengu, Sam Nako, Lesedi Ntsane and Victor Nldovu, whose careers unknowingly began at The Salvation Army.
Despite the influence of American jazz icons, Lengoasa believes South Africa has its own long list of jazz legends. These include Kippie Moeketsi, Chris McGregor, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Bheki Mseleku and many others. “With that pedigree, why should we not be proud”, looking extremely proud himself. “The Americans and the Europeans owe us a lot of respect because they also learned from our musical ancestors”, sounding unapologetic. “I also believe that the government and the private sector should invest in jazz and arts as they do in sports. The returns could be just as great”, concluding his conversation with Marabi Jazz Lounge.