Jazz trombone legend Jonas Gwangwa dies aged 83

23 January 2021 - 17:22
Jazz musician, songwriter and producer Jonas Mosa Gwangwa, centre, has died.
Jazz musician, songwriter and producer Jonas Mosa Gwangwa, centre, has died.

Revered trombonist Jonas Gwangwa has died, the presidency announced on Saturday.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed his deep sadness at the passing away today of the cultural icon Jonas Gwangwa at the age of 83,” said a statement.

“The esteemed member of the Order of Ikhamanga was a globally recognised and awarded composer, arranger, producer and jazz trombonist.

“The president's thoughts and prayers are with Mr Gwangwa's family, friends, colleagues, comrades and followers around SA, the continent and the world.”

The Sowetan reported in 2019 that Gwangwa was not able to attend an event in his honour and his 82nd birthday celebration at the Birchwood Hotel, in Boksburg, due to ill-health.

At the time, Gwangwa was honoured by the South African Afro Music Awards for his role and contribution to the SA music industry.

The presidency reminisced about Gwangwa's musical prowess.

“The citation for his National Order, which he received in 2010, recalls how this South African paragon enthralled audiences around the world with his artistry as a composer and all-round creative genius,” it said.

“For over 30 years, he was to travel the world as an exile, collecting accolades wherever he went.”

The anti-apartheid activist narrowly escaped death in 1985 when security forces blew up his home.

“A product of the turbulent but musically significant 1950s, he emerged from the humble environs of Orlando East in Soweto,” said the presidency.

“He delighted audiences in Sophiatown until it became illegal for black people to congregate and South African musicians were jailed merely for practising their craft.

“In spite of the restrictions, he established and played with virtually every important band of the era, and such icons as Kippie Moeketsi, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Gertze and Makhaya Ntshoko.

“Jonas Gwangwa has also been a compatriot of famous musicians, including Ahmad Jamal, Herb Alpert, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Caiphus Semenya.”

Ramaphosa said: “A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and our democratic creative industries has been called to rest; the trombone that boomed with boldness and bravery, and equally warmed our hearts with mellow melody, has lost its life force.”