Sipho Gumede was born in Cato Manor, Durban. His earliest musical memory is of playing guitar and pennywhistle. The guitar was homemade: a 5 gallon tin, wood and fish gut. He and his friends would play the tunes of Spokes Mashiyane, Zakes Nkosi and Lemmy "Special" Mabaso.
At the age of 12, Sipho went to stay on a farm some 30kms from Umlazi. He was exposed to many different kinds of music - vocal and soulful traditions, the music of weddings and funerals. After school each day, he'd pass the time watching cattle practicing on a borrowed guitar.This period was crucial in the formation of Sipho's musical outlook.
Sipho returned to Umlazi at the age of 16 and met the late great jazz guitarist, Cyril Magubane who introduced him to the music of Wes Montgomery and the world of jazz. He also met Dick Khoza and landed his first professional job as a member of the Jazz Revellers, switching from guitar to bass.
In 1970 Sipho headed for Johannesburg, arriving in a strange city he headed for the only place he knew. Dorkey House in Eloff street. There he met the great musicians of the time. He joined Dennis Mpale and Cocky Tlhotlhlalemaje in "Isintu" and worked with Dennis' band at the Pina Culo Music Festival. Thereafter Sipho rejoined Dick Khoza who was based at the Pelican Nightclub. The Pelican was a great musical laboratory in the 1970's. On any given night, legendary artists would pop in for a jam or perform as part of the Sunday night cabaret.
Later Sipho joined Gibson Kente and toured the country. He then left Gibson to concentrate on practising and perfecting his technique, upon hearing the music of Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and Chick Corea. He then teamed up with Jabu Nkosi, Barney Rachabane, Duke Makasi, Dennis Mpale and Enoch Mtlelane as the short lived "Roots". After the demise of the "Roots", Sipho met Bheki Mseleku forming a dynamic and creative partnership which eventually led to the formation of "Spirits Rejoice" - a group which provided the space to create, which both artists had been looking for. "Spirits Rejoice" were an innovative and creative band that explored the many facets of jazz fusion. In 1982, Sipho together with Khaya Mhlangu, decided to explore fusion coupled with the African sounds he had grown up with, and so "Sakhile" was born. It was here that Sipho was able to merge the divergent musical paths travelled over the years and produce magical songs like "Mantombi".
Since then Sipho has continuously been creating new and challenging music through a series of inspired collaborations. He toured the United States of America, Canada and the Bahamas with Harry Belafonte and Letta Mbulu. Along with Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Letta Mbuli, he produced the musical show "Buwa" which told the story of South African music in the context of South African history. The show played in Harare, Zimbabwe and several other African states before it closed in Sweden. 1987 saw the rebirth of "Sakhile". They toured Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom. They also represented South Africa at the 'Meeting of the World music festival which took place in Finland and the Soviet Union. Sakhile also toured several African states and together with Abigail Khubheka they played all the major cities in Germany. Later that same year, Sipho performed with Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu and Hugh Masekela at the Montreux Jazz Festival in an African Evening produced by Quincy Jones.
In 1992 his solo album 'Thank you for Listening' won an OKTV award for best African Fusion Album. In 1995 he was awarded with an achievement award from Johnny Walker Black Label for his outstanding contribution to the South African Music Industry
The following year saw Sipho release his debut on the Sheer Sound label - a double CD retrospective of his outstanding career entitled "20 Years of Life". The album was well received and consisted of scarce and classic material primarily off the albums "Working Man" and "Village Dance". The second disc offered fans a pleasant change in the form of an atmospheric, electric performance recorded live at the Bassline in Melville by SAFM.
"Blues for my Mother", the second release by bass legend Sipho Gumede on the Sheer Sound label, marks Sipho’s first recording of new material in three years since "Ubuntu" (Humanity). During the three year’s prior this release, Sipho has maintained his reputation, as one of South Africa’s most prolific songwriters and composers. Combined with an intensive and extensive touring / giging schedule, he has become one of the country’s most sought after live acts, always attracting large audiences. Dedicated to his mother, the album is also, according to Sipho, a tribute to all the nation’s women, who are in essence, the backbone of the country. Featured on the album are a host of some of the finest musicians, including a number of Sipho’s friends: Paul Hanmer, McCoy Mrubata, Mandla Masuku, Xoli Nkosi, Jerry Ngcobo, Phumzile Ntuli, Mfanafuthi Mahlobo and Sbusiso.
In January of 1999, Sipho performed in two shows as bass guitarist for Joe McBride on his tour to South Africa, with McCoy Mrubata and Barry van Zyl making up the rest of the backing musicians. The US jazz pianist enjoyed working with Sipho, and praised the abilities of all the SA musicians who got to play with him, in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Sipho played to large audiences in Joe’s band at the Mega Music Warehouse concert and at the Morula Sun Jazz ‘99 Festival, after having only been together for two days to rehearse the material.
"New Era" comes at a time when Sipho is riding the wave of success with his previous album "Blues For My Mother" (SSCD 039) having just reached the twenty five thousand mark, both Sipho’s and Sheers first gold album. The new album once again accentuates Gumede’s extraordinary talents as both songwriter and composer with his own brand of African smooth jazz on an album featuring artists from both Africa and America. The album was recorded at Sipho’s home studios in Durban with programming and mixing done at the Heads Up International studio’s in Texas with Martin Walters. Included on the album are some of the world’s best known smooth jazz artists among them the likes of Joe McBride (keys) and Andy Narell (steel pan), Wayne De Lano (sax) and Manny Rodriquez (acoustic piano).
Sipho also features on bass as part of the super group, The Sheer All Stars, together with Paul Hanmer, McCoy Mrubata, Errol Dyers and Frank Paco. The album, out September 1999 is called "Indibano".
Sipho Gumede died of cancer in July 2004.
Sipho has recorded with legends
Including: Timmy Thomas, Kippie Moketse, Margaret Singana, Dollar Brand, Winston Mankunku, Harare and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Juluka, Stimela, Brenda Fassie, P.J. Powers, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, Mango Groove, Leslie Ray Dowling, Vicky Sampson, Andy Narell
- just to name a few.
Albums produced and recorded by Sipho Gumede:
1. Sakhile : Phambili, Welcome Home, Sakhile
2. Sipho Gumede : Faces