South African jazz “giant” Jonas Gwangwa has died aged 83

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African jazz trombonist and composer Jonas Gwangwa, whose music fueled the fight against apartheid, died on Saturday at the age of 83, the presidency announced.

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela (left), departs with Caiphus Semenya and Jonas Gwangwa after paying tribute to Miriam Makeba. Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko

President Cyril Ramaphosa led the tributes to the legendary musician who was nominated for an Oscar for the theme song of the 1987 film “Cry Freedom”.

“A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and democratic creative industries has been called to rest,” Ramaphosa said.

“The trombone which rumbled with boldness and bravery, and which also warmed our hearts with a sweet melody lost its life force,” added the president.

There were no immediate details of how or where Gwangwa died.

He died on the third anniversary of the death of “father of South African jazz” Hugh Masekela and the second anniversary of the death of Zimbabwean music legend Oliver Mtukudzi. January 23 had become “the day music died,” said the South African and other media outlets.

Gwangwa was born in October 1937 in Soweto and had a 40-year career.

“He delighted the Sophiatown audience until it became illegal for blacks to congregate and South African musicians were jailed simply for practicing their profession,” the presidency statement said.

He was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa‘s highest national honor for achievement in art and culture, in 2010.

The award recognized his work as composer, arranger and musical director of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, a cultural group formed by activists from the African National Congress in the 1970s.

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Andrew Heavens


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