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Africa’s Well-Known Activists

23 December 2015 Articles Latest Most Popular


Name: Hugh Masekela
Born: April 4, 1939
Country: South Africa
Instrumentation: Trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone cornet, vocals

One cannot speak of Jazzuary and not wax lyrical about the legend that is Hugh Masekela. From when he received his trumpet at age 14, Masekela has not looked back. Today he is a respected figure on the local and international jazz scenes – with a voice that is defiant in his jazz vocals and on the political scene.

Why we love him: Masekela says it like it is – in song and social commentary.

Name: Emmanuel “Manu” N’Djoké Dibango
Born: December 12, 1933
Country: Cameroon
Instrumentation: Piano, sax and vibes

With a music style that fuses jazz, funk and makossa – a traditional Cameroonian music genre – Manu Dibango is one of South Africa’s best loved jazz superstars. Nicknamed the “Lion of Cameroon,” Manu trained in classic piano but proved to be extremely versatile in soul, reggae, jazz, spirituals and blues.

Why we love him: He never apologises for his distinct style of unmistakably indigenous African sound.

Name: Zenzile Miriam Makeba
Born: March 4, 1932 – November 9, 2008
Country:  South Africa
Instrumentation: Jazz Vocalist

Fondly named “Mama Africa,” South African born jazz vocalist Miriam Makeba wowed audiences across the world with songs that, unashamedly, celebrated Africa. Also recognised as a civil rights activist, Makeba has shared the stage with Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte and in 1962 she performed at the birthday celebration of US President John F. Kennedy!

Why we love her: She confidently introduced Xhosa and Zulu songs to an international audience and they loved it!

Name: Jonas Gwangwa
Born: October 19, 1941
Country: South Africa
Instrumentation: Trombone, arranger, bandleader, orchestra

An important figure on the South African jazz scene, Jonas Gwangwa rose to fame as a trombone player in the much-loved band, The Jazz Epistles. The same band introduced us to the likes of Dollar Brand – who would later be known as Abdullah Ibrahim. He later branched out on his own and clinched a spot on the international jazz scene.

Why we love him: Gwangwa was one of two composers behind the epic theme song for the movie Cry Freedom.

Name: Fela Kuti (Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti)
               Femi Kuti (Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti)

Born: Fela ( October 15, 1938 – August 2, 1997)
             Femi (16 June 1962)
CountryNigeria
Instrumentation: Fela (Saxophone, vocals, keyboard, trumpet, guitars & drums)
                                     Femi (Saxophone, vocals, trumpet and keyboard)

This father and son duo need no introduction to the jazz scene. From playing together in the band Egypt 80 to going their separate ways until Fela’s death in 1997, their passion for their craft can be felt and heard through their songs.

Why we love them: The Kutis are strong social and political activists fighting for a better life for their fellow men.

Artists to watch:

  • Wanda Baloyi
  • Asanda Bam

We also love:-

  • Oliver Mtukudzi
  • Thandiswa Mazwai
  • Abdullah Ibrahim
  • Sibongile Khumalo
  • Simphiwe Dana

Unsung heroes:

  • Moses Taiwa Molelekwa

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