In the vibrant days of the Sophiatown music scene he established and played in nearly all the most influential bands of the decade, including the Jazz Epistles, the first South African band to record a long playing record.
It is 15 years since Jonas Gwangwa returned home from 30 years in exile. The remarkable composer, arranger, bandleader and trombonist soon regained his household name and consolidated his reputation as a formidable artist. Gwangwa has just released his latest offering "Sounds from Exile" that he co-produced with guitarist Kenny Mathaba.
The highlight of this multi-award winning composer's musical career was his collaboration with George Fenton to create the original score and theme song of the much-heralded Richard Attenborough film, "Cry Freedom", which was nominated for a Grammy Award. His latest offering is "Songs From Exile".
The 15 years he spent in the US represent an exciting period in Gwangwa's life. Through the patronage of musical legend Harry Belafonte, Gwangwa was afforded incredible opportunities to record and play with some of the US's legends. In the last decade he has written more than a dozen music scores and theme music for movies, television, corporations and commercials. These include film producer Mfundi Vundla's "Generations" and "Soweto Green", Dali Tambo's "Night Moves", the African-American Summit anthem and the ANC documentary "Ulibambe Lingashoni" to name a few.
In the 1960s he began to gain noticed in the United States and in 1965 he was featured in a "Sound Of Africa" concert at Carnegie Hall. The others at the concert included Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Letta Mbulu. Despite that he was not seen favorably by the apartheid government so left his homeland in the early 1970s
In later life he became important as a composer doing the scores of films like Cry Freedom and at the 60th Annual Academy Awards in 1988 he performed his nominated song Cry Freedom. Also in 1988 he performed at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in Wembley Stadium. In 1991 he returned to South Africa and in 1997 he composed the theme for their Olympic bid.
Jonas Mosa Gwangwa has been an important figure in South African jazz for over 40 years. He first gained significance playing trombone with The Jazz Epistles. After the group broke up he continued to be important to the South African music scene and then later abroad.
His autobiography has recently been written by acclaimed music academic Colette Szymczak.
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