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Jonas Gwangwa, South African Musician And Activist, Dies At 83

Written by on January 25, 2021

Veli Nhlapo \ Sowetan/Getty Images

(NPR) – The great South African trombonist and composer Jonas Gwangwa, who was an ambassador for his country’s music around the globe and an advocate against apartheid at home, died today. Gwangwa’s death was announced in a statement published on the web site of the presidency of the Republic of South Africa. He was 83 years old.

A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and our democratic creative industries has been called to rest,” the statement from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reads. “The trombone that boomed with boldness and bravery, and equally warmed our hearts with mellow melody has lost its life force.”

Jonas Gwangwa was born in Soweto in 1937. He 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.

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