Jazz Sessions - A Tale of Three African Legends

 By Munashe O'brian Gutu 

The 23rd of January saw Zimbabweans across the globe taking time to commemorate the legendary icon, Dr Oliver Dairai ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi. Tuku, as he is affectionately known in the arts circles, breathed his last in 2019 on the 23rd of January.

Oliver Mtukudzi Masekela Gwangwa

The husky voice legend, whose illustrious career inspires generations, was a good friend to Bra Hugh Ramapolo Masekela, the South African Jazz legend who met his maker a year prior on the same date in 2018. Coincidentally, Jonas Gwangwa, another Jazz legend who made headlines in apartheid South Africa, died on the 23rd of January 2021. Call me superstitious or a fundamentalist, God surely had plans for these Jazz stalwarts whose rare talent is irreplaceable, at least not anytime soon.

Theirs was music with a touch of divine Pan-African force, and this spoke to the hearts and souls of many proud Africans. 

Their music knows no boundaries, a testimony of well-crafted lyricism that knew no race, ethnicity, tribe and/or gender.

Jonas Gwangwa led a Jazz band, the Jazz Epistles and was affectionately known by his legion of fans across the universe for his distinguished ability to play the trombone. Gwangwa was in his late 80’s. His career spurned over four decades, a case of a protracted artistic effort against the racial apartheid system and a call for one love. 

Gwangwa made the soundtrack for the movie Cry Freedom which featured Denzel Washington playing the role of anti-apartheid student activist Bantu Steve Biko. The initiative saw him rise to international stardom and earning him some global music nominations such as Academy Awards and the hugely coveted Oscar Awards.

On the other hand, Oliver Mtukudzi was a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador owing to his advocacy for children rights and the rights of the girl child. Tuku was highly decorated with an array of international awards including inter alia the Kora Awards in 2002, SAMA Award and the global Reel Award for his versatility in fusing languages in Musicology.

He featured various South African artists like Miriam Makeba, Ringo, and his long-time friend Hugh Masekela, among a host of more international acts. With Masekela, Tuku did acts including concerts and features for Todii, Tapera and Kusateerera. The father of South African Jazz, Masekela had a Grammy nomination in 2012 for his album Jabulani, BBC Radio Jazz Award and MTCV Africa Music Awards, among others.

The trio left us a vast discography of inspiring cultural, devotional and educational jazz tracks. The 23rd of January seems to be that chosen day for them to re-unite as African legends with something to say musically. Rest in peace sons of the soil. 

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