Kgethi Nkotsi. Picture by Chloe Clark

At the tender age of 21, Kgethi Nkotsi has not only met most of his favourite musicians, he also got to perform with some.  “If I introduce myself to another musician as Kgethi, they are likely to forget my name.  But if I play my trombone, they will always remember who I am”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge. He always carries the trombone when he goes to jazz gigs even if he is not billed to perform. “I am always ready to play at any time.  What if I get asked to participate in a jam session and I left the trombone at home? That gives an impression that I don’t take myself seriously as a musician”, he said.

He is the second born of 4 siblings.  “I have a sister and 2 brothers.  My parents are devoted Christians”, sipping soft drink after a very busy day at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).  Kgethi is studying Jazz and Popular Music at the institution, more than 500 kilometres from his Tembisa home in Gauteng.  Five years ago, he started playing trombone at the Moses Molelekwa Arts Foundation which is run by Jerry “The Monk” Molelekwa.  “I was told that I may not get any sound from my first blow of the trombone, but in my case, the sound did come out which was exciting”, giggling as he recalls that moment. While at the foundation, he met Delfeayo Marsalis.

“I fell in love with that wah wah sound (the sound by the trombone when one slurs the notes) and I have never looked back”, he added.  It was a drummer friend of his, Stanley Matlou who introduced him to the Moses Molelekwa Arts Foundation.  At first, his strict parents were not very supportive of their young trombonist son because they associated music with Satanism and thought it was unholy.  It was the mother who started to take note of Kgethi’s talent.  She managed to convince his father who bought him his first trombone after attending the Standard Bank National Youth Festival.

With his trombone.  Picture by Ayanda Mfiki

Kgethi has already played and jammed with musicians Andile Yenana, Salim Washington, Leon Scharnick, Burton Naidoo, Neil Gonsalves, Afrika Mkhize, Nduduzo Makhathini and many others.  He was the youngest artist to perform at the Inaugural Tshwane International Big Band Festival in December last year, playing alongside Steve Turre, Marcus Wyatt, Sydney Mavundla, Mthunzi Mvubu, to mention but a few.  It was trumpeter Prince Lengoasa that recommended that Kgethi be part of this event. “Prince Lengoasa is one of those musicians I look up to”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge.

His highlights as a music student include a gig at the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music where Neil Gonsalves gave him charts he could not believe he was going to play because they looked very challenging.  Kgethi also recalls playing the music of Thelonious Monk alongside Burton Naidoo at the Bat Centre.  Last year, he performed at the same venue alongside Salim Washington.  “My favourite trombonists include Curtis Fuller and J J Johnson.  Fuller’s style of playing is very soulful”, he said.

“Being a music student at UKZN feels very special.  We are taught by very talented musicians who also mentor us”, looking very excited.  The Jazz Centre always host gigs where students get a discount. Kgethi often listens to Deep House and some Hip Hop.  “I am also Tottenham Hotspur fan, love the theatre and attending lots of gigs”, he said.  His friends and fellow students also know him for his great sense of humour.  “I have always had this personality since primary school”, he added.

Funny man. Picture by Thando

“Jazz and classical music are not funded the same way. Jazz is seriously underfunded”, a huge concern that he has. He also believes that jazz must be taught at primary level especially in government schools.  That can help in grooming future jazz musicians.  “Another thing that people need to understand is that jazz is not only for old people.  I know more young musicians than old.  This country has a lot of talent that needs to be identified”, he told Marabi Jazz Lounge. 

He still wants to spend many years as a university student.  “I am still young and would like to further my studies and play more gigs before I decide to run projects that are not performance related”.  Kgethi hopes to run development projects in primary and high schools of his hometown Tembisa.  Even though he seems not to be in a hurry for big things, he talent has already been identified by many experienced musicians who always invite him to be part of their gigs, exposing him to more diverse jazz audiences.

The message he has for the learners at high school is that the trombone is not as challenging as it looks.  “It may not have buttons like a saxophone but it’s like any other instrument.  One needs love and patience to play it.  Don’t follow what people tell you, follow your heart, which is the trombone”, concluding his chat with Marabi Jazz Lounge.  A lot of jazz fans can look forward to see more of this young cat with a great personality.  He may not realize how much of a good musician he is becoming.

Kgethi is accessible on the following social media platforms:

Kgethi Nkotsi on Facebook and @kgethi_nkotsi on Instagram.


Zishaphi – where it’s happening

The Orbit Jazz Club & Bistro – Braamfontein

23 March 20h30:  Mkhize/Washington Quartet – R150

24 March 20h30:  Mkhize/Washington Quartet – R150

25 March 17h00:  Nduduzo Makhathini – R150

28 March 20h00:  Tribute ‘Birdie’ Mboweni – R120

29 March 20h30:  Lagos Thursdays – R130

The South African State Theatre – Pretoria 

23 March 20h00:  A Tribute to Mama Africa – R120

The Chairman – Durban 

23 March 22h00:  Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane – R150

The Jazzy Rainbow – Durban 

23 March 19h00:  5th Season Band – R80

The Exchange – Durban  

24 March 17h30:  Andile Yenana Quartet, Dimitri Barry featuring Susan Berry, Obakeng Thamange Quartet – R200

The Rainbow Restaurant – Pinetown 

24 March 15h00:  Mthobisi Mthalane – Free admission

The Bat Centre –  Durban

25 March 15h00:  Mthobisi Mthalane – Free admission

The CRYPT Jazz Restaurant – Cape Town 

23 March 20h00:  N2 Jazz Band – R100

24 March 20h00:  Sylvia Mdunyelwa – R100

27 March 20h00:  Buitendag Quartet – R100

28 March 20h00:  Martin Zenker Quartet – R100

29 March 20h00:  Thembelihle Dunjana Trio – R100