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Makaya Ntshoko and the Swiss – SA Jazz Quintet
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Ntshoko, Makaya (South Africa)  
Makaya Ntshoko © Roche Pharma 2006

Although the South African career of the drummer Makaya Ntshoko spans but a very short period, his name is legendary.

Born in Cape Town in 1939, he grew up in Langa. Early on he learned from musicians such as George Castle (bass), Banzi Bangani (trumpet), Morris Goldberg (alto) and the drummers Columbus Phakamile “Phaks" Joya and Maurice Gawronsky. He teamed up with “Dan Boy" Danayi (alto) and Martin “Lilly" Mgijima and had the opportunity to jam and perform with Cups Nkanuka (tenor) and his Peninsula Stars.

In 1959 he joined fellow Cape musicians Dollar Brand and Johnny Gertze on a trip to Johannesburg where together with Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela they formed the legendary Jazz Epistles. The group was committed to serious, progressive jazz and recorded their ground breaking album.
drum (kit drums)
Genre: jazz, African Jazz
Whereas Dollar Brand and Johnny Gertze eventually returned to Cape Town, Makaya stayed on. Together with Kippie Moeketsi and Jonas Gwangwa he joined the crew of the musical King Kong for its second tour in England and Scotland in 1960.

He returned to South Africa in 1961 and spent much of this extremely busy period, which involved a lot of travelling, at Dorkay House. In 1962 Makaya Ntshoko formed his own Jazz Giants (with Aubrey Mathabatha, Khonzile Nana, Tete Mbambisa, Dudu Pukwana and Martin Mgijima) for the Castle Lager National Jazz Festival at the Moroka Jabavu Stadium in October of the same year. Again the focus was on progressive music, the repertoire including tunes of Miles or Golson such as Killer Joe. Other performances included the avant-garde Jazz Fantasia with Gideon Nxumalo. The tightening Apartheid system, however, took its toll on Makaya, who remembers this period as a very intensive time “you do not have time to waste, there is so much to do "you just have to do it."

Eventually he responded to the call of Dollar Brand and joined him, Johnny Gertze and Sathima Bea Benjamin in Switzerland. The Dollar Brand Trio performed in Basel at the Atlantis and in Zuerich at the club Africana where Coltrane and Ellington came to see them. The latter in 1963 invited them to Paris for a recording that paved their way to international recognition. What followed was a rapid career that took Makaya to Germany, Denmark, England, France, the United States and the Far East performing with Johnny Dyani, Mal Waldron, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Roland Kirk, Joe McPhee, John Tchicai, Pepper Adams, Hannibal Petersen, NICRA, etc.

In comparison with other musicians in exile, such as Moholo, Ntshoko did not foreground his South African roots that much and was closer to the European scene. He was - and still is - known for intricate polyrthyms, a light and resilient way of drumming, immediate response and sensitivity. For a while Makaya Ntshoko was the house drummer at the Jazz Jamboree in Berlin and at the Jazzhouse Montmartre in Copenhagen. As he constantly had a problem with permits he made Basel in Switzerland his base. He seized the opportunity to teach workshops at the Basel conservatory. His composition Bebby (or Bebe), a tribute to the young students at Basel, is reminiscent of this period.

Yet, life in exile was not less difficult than life under Apartheid. While the condition set free an immense creative energy it destroyed several of Makaya’s countrymen. Consequently Ntshoko kept a low profile. Together with his longtime companion John Tchicai he joined the project Jazz against Apartheid the Music of Johnny Dyani in Frankfurt/ Germany in 1986, which was originally started by the initiative Kultur im Ghetto together with Dyani.

More recently Makaya Ntshoko can be seen on stage more frequently in performances with artists such as John Tchicai (tenor), Pierre Favre (drums), Irene Schweizer (piano) or with his own Makaya and the New Tsotsis (the original Tsotsis were a project of his in the mid 70s) with Andy Scherrer (tenor), Vera Kappeler (piano) and Stephan Kurmann (bass). A record of this band is due for release.

this biography provided courtesy of Veit Arlt, University of Basel.

Contact Details:

Veit Arlt, University of Basel.
Veit Arlt,
Birsigstr. 90, CH-4054 Basel

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  Recordings : Ntshoko, Makaya
Duke Ellington presents Dollar Brand Trio

an historical album!

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