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South African jazz ‘giant’ Jonas Gwangwa dies aged 83

President Cyril Ramaphosa led the tributes to the legendary musician, Jonas Gwangwa, who was nominated for an Oscar.

Gwangwa’s death was announced in a statement published on the website of the presidency of the Republic of South Africa. The statement from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa read; 

“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.”

Born in Soweto in 1937, Gwangwa mastered the trombone in his youth, and in the late ’50s was a founding member of the pivotal South African group the Jazz Epistles.

The ensemble also featured future legends like pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand), trumpeter Hugh Masekela and alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi. Modelled after Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the band was a superb showcase for Gwangwa, whose trombone style embodied both the commanding flamboyance of Jack Teagarden and the technical precision of J.J. Johnson.

Gwangwa was nominated for an Oscar for the theme song of the 1987 film Cry Freedom. He passed away on the third anniversary of the death of the “father of South African jazz” Hugh Masekela and the second anniversary of the death of Zimbabwean musical legend Oliver Mtukudzi.

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