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Ngozi, Winston Monwabisi 'Mankunku' (South Africa)  
Winston 'Mankunku' Ngozi © Steve Gordon

"MANKUNKU" has become a legend in his own time, and is a name which evokes powerful musical images not only for close followers of South African township jazz, but for music lovers all over southern Africa.

Over the last three decades, formative years in the development of SA jazz, "Mankunku" has been a beacon for trends and styles in the genre. Today, "Mankunku" is the foremost exponent of tenor saxophone in South Africa, and one of the most respected composers in jazz.

Born in Retreat, Cape Town in 1943, Winston was the first-born in a musical family. He started "fooling around" on the piano at age seven, and later tried his hand at both clarinet and trumpet. In his mid-teens, however, he decided that the sound of the saxophone was the sound he wanted, and started to learn the alto, then the tenor saxophone. During this period, he cites John Coltrane, local saxophonist "Cups & Saucers", pianist Merton Barrow, as well as bassist Midge Pike, in whose band the young Winston received his 'initiation' as a professional musician, as major influences.

Over the years, "Mankunku" has worked with virtually all major South African jazz artists, from Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana, to Barney Rachabane and Victor Ntoni. He has also been involved in several projects with the legendary Port Elizabeth group The Soul Jazz Men.

Saxophone, arranger, bandleader
Genre: African Jazz, jazz
In contrast to many colleagues who left the country to further their careers in Europe and the United States, "Mankunku" chose to remain in his native Cape Town. This meant, however, that he was subjected to the Separate Amenities Act and similar Apartheid legislation. A classic tale tells of his performance with an all-white big band in the Cape Town City Hall in 1964, where, because a mixed-race band was unlawful, he was forced to play behind a curtain so as to remain out of sight.

With the milestone release of "Yakhal' Inkomo" by "Mankunku Quartet" in 1968, Winston became a household name in South African townships. The album title is directly translated from Xhosa as "the bellowing bull", and refers to the particularly anguished cry made by cattle as they go to the slaughter. Containing obvious inferences to the situation of blacks in South Africa, "Yakhal'Inkomo" has become one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time in South Africa, and was recorded with the Early Mabuza Trio featuring the legendary drummer, bassist Agrippa Magwaza, and pianist Lionel Pillay. In the same year, he received the Castle Lager "Jazz Musician of the Year" Award. "Yakhal' Inkomo" has become one of the all-time classic South African jazz albums, re-released by Teal in 1975, 1985 and 1989, and is since February 1996 available for the first time on CD though Polygram (SA)..

During the next few years, "Mankunku" was part of only two other releases as the featured saxophonist, with the Chris Schilder Quintet in 1969 and The Cliffs, which comprised a number of "Mankunku's" long-time associates including Stompie Manana and Roger Khoza, in 1975. However, disillusioned with the music industry after these recordings, he shied away from recordings for over ten years, apart from an appearance under pseudonym in 1976 on Sammy Hartman's "District Six" LP.

Mankunku 2003 - pic Steve Gordon
Working with pianist Mike Perry since the early 1980's, "Mankunku" recorded and released the acclaimed album "Jika" in 1986 on their joint record label Nkomo. Recorded both in Cape Town and London, "Jika" featured a number of exiled South African musicians, including Bheki Mseleku, Russell Herman, and Lucky Ranku. The album has since been released in Australia (Avan-Guard), the US (Intersound) and in Germany (ITM) under the title "Crossroads".

In 1989, "Mankunku" and Perry toured Europe briefly, and performed in Germany and in the UK, with exiles Dudu Pukwana, Ernest Mothle and Gilbert Matthews. During the last few years, "Mankunku" has been a major attraction at events such as the annual Standard Bank Grahamstown National Arts Festival (1990, '91 and '93), "Sax Appeal...The Journey Continues" at Sun City Superbowl (1992), Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival (1993) and the Johannesburg Guinness Jazz Festival (1993). In 1993, Mankunku also made two rare live recordings, one for Radio South Africa's "Live At..." series, and one for CCV TV's Jazz Studio.

Today, "Mankunku" works with a quintet comprising the cream of South Africa's jazz musicians. Since 1992, Mankunku Quintet the band has toured extensively throughout southern Africa, and also completed a highly successful 12-stop tour of Sweden at the invitation of the Swedish Jazz Federation late in 1993. During 1996, he was invited to Belgium twice, performing together with pianist Jack Van Poll.

While many jazz musicians of his generation chose to pursue international careers, "Mankunku" remained in South Africa and only travelled internationally more than 25 years after his breakthrough with "Yakhal'Inkomo". For "Mankunku", artistic authenticity and his relationship with his home audience have been of paramount importance. Over the years, he has become a hallmark of spiritual integrity in South African music, and a vital link between the Afro- and American jazz forms.

this biography by Christian Syren, Making Music Productions cc
photographs Steve Gordon, Musicpics Africa

A clip of the track "Give Peace a Chance (een liedjie vir Saldanha Bay)" plays on opening this page. Press F5 to replay.
From the album "Abantwana be Afrika", Sheer Sound 2003. Catalogue No.SSCD 098

Contact Details:

Christian Syren
Making Music Artist Agency
P.O.Box 16626
  Recordings : Ngozi, Winston Monwabisi 'Mankunku'
Molo Africa

Molo Afrika
Abantwana Be Afrika

Abantwana Be Afrika


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