Jonas Gwangwa, South African jazz musician and activist, dead at 83

Jonas Gwangwa – the South African anti-apartheid activist, composer and jazz trombonist – has died, NPR reports. The news was confirmed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. “A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and our democratic creative industries has been called to rest,” Ramaphosa wrote in a statement. “The trombone that exploded boldly and bravely, and also warmed our hearts with sweet melody has lost its life force.” Gwangwa was 83 years old.

Raised in Johannesburg’s Soweto Township, Gwangwa was a member of the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi. When South Africa‘s apartheid regime censored jazz performances in 1960 and imprisoned black people for gathering, Gwangwa chose to live in exile outside the country.

Gwangwa performed internationally in the years that followed and continued to use his music in the service of activism. He was the musical director of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, a group formed by activists from the African National Congress. His music for the years 1987 Cry out for freedom, a film about anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline, earned Gwangwa two Oscar nominations. In 1985, he reportedly survived a bombing of his home by apartheid security forces.

In 2010, Gwangwa was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest honour. His death falls on the third anniversary of the death of his friend and collaborator Hugh Masekela.


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