Winston Monwabisi Mankunku Ngozi


Winston Monwabisi Mankunku Ngozi was born in Retreat, Cape Town in 1943.  His musicality emerged early on and was carefully nurtured by his mother, Gertrude. Having experimented with piano and trumpet he took up saxophone in his mid teens.   

Along with one in three South Africans the Ngozi family was uprooted from their home and relocated to Gugulethu under the notorious Group Areas Act in the early '60's. By this time however Winston was already gigging extensively and his early influences in Cape Town included Midge Pike, Parks Joya, Cups and Saucers and Merton Barrow. But John Coltrane was perhaps Winston's greatest source of inspiration and his respect and admiration for ‘Trane’ has endured right through Mankunku's career to the present day.   

South Africa’s Jazz was profoundly affected by Apartheid and as the regime tightened its hold during the 60’s many fine musicians and singers left including for example Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela,  Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Gertze, Bheki  Mseleku, Johnny Dyani, Russell Herman and many others. Musicians at home were discouraged and even prevented from playing together " across the colour line " and in ‘64 Mankunku did a concert at the Green Point Art Centre under the pseudonym Winston Mann and behind a curtain to avoid possible repercussions! 

In 1968 he recorded the famous Yakhal’Nkomo album together with Early Mabuza, Agrippa Magwaza and Lionel Pillay. Although he received the Castle Lager "Jazz Musician of the Year" in the same year, and despite the fact that the album sold well [and still is -it has been re-released at least 3 times] Winston received barely any financial reward. Despite this Mankunku remained in South Africa and by now cynical of the racist - ridden SA Music Industry simply took the music to the people live. 

Over the years Mankunku has played with most of SA's top musicians. To mention just a few: Barney Rachabane', Chris McGregor, Victor Ntoni, Sammy Hartman, Chris Schilder, Monty Weber, Dollar Brand, Pat Matshikiza, Sandile Shanga, Darius Brubeck, Roger Khosa, The Soul Jazzmen. He has also performed with many international musicians, including: Chick Corea, Jack Van Poll, Dave Young, Joe Henderson, Mike Rossi, Toots Thielemans and Manu Dibango.  

Having been introduced in ‘76 by the late Johnny Gertze, Winston worked extensively with pianist\composer Mike Perry in the early 80’s and this led to the recording of the acclaimed album Jika in ‘87 as well as the formation of Winston and Mike's own label Nkomo Records.  Jika's wide scope and excellent individual performances ensured its success both at home and abroad.  It also contained a strong protest message in songs like Wajikeleza and Asiyapo.  Although the general tone of the album is sweet and melodic, to quote a review: Like chilli sauce on an ice cube, Jika was recorded in London as well as Cape Town. 

Mankunku’s international status grew in the following years. He toured Germany and the UK with Mike Perry in 1989. He toured Sweden and Norway in 1993. In 1996 he toured Belgium twice with pianist Jack Van Poll. This tour included a memorable set with Toots Thielemans who came on for two songs and ended up playing all night. 

After a gap of nearly ten years Winston and Mike teamed up again and released Dudula in 1996. It was recorded in Cape Town. It ranges from the effervescent optimism of Masihambe, which eases one in with a laid back invitation, to the impatient jive of Khawuleza (Hurry Up!). Dudula by Mankunku and Perry is a journey in a sense, with obvious reference to this in the song titles: Masihambe (Lets Go), Dudula (Forward) and Khawuleza (Hurry Up). And yet the music takes the listener on it's own journey. It is a positive album, reflecting the social optimism felt in the mid to late 90's in South Africa.  As a whole it is a laid back album, cool music from a hot climate. And yet all the songs exist on very different Levels. Masihambe has an anthem like quality to it, saying ‘Let's go' to all the listeners collectively. It contrasts with the more intimate tracks: Dudula and Shirley, which engage the listener on a personal level, speaking to them on a one to one level. Amanzi Obomi has an essential quality to it accentuated by Errol Dyers guitar. This is followed by Khawuleza, which evokes a dusty, bustling sticky village street and is the most energetic track on the album. The whole is completed by Green and Gold, a more serious piece, leaving the listener with the understanding of what still has to be achieved in order for it to work out for the best.   

Nkomo Records released Molo Africa in 1998, with distribution in areas other than Cape Town being put in the capable hands of Sheer Sound. The first tracks were laid down in November 1997. The album features the hit song “ A Song for Bra Des Tutu”, and features a total of 7 all new tracks with guest artists Feya Faku, Tete Mbambisa, Errol Dyers, Basil Moses, Lionel Beukes and Vusi Khumalo, amongst others. Molo Africa won Winston a South African Music Award at the 1999 5th Annual FNB SAMA ceremony held at Sun City, in the category “Best Traditional Jazz”.

“Molo Africa” has been re-released by Sheer Sound in 2002

 Winston Mankunku’s latest album ‘Abantwana be Afrika” was recorded in Johannesburg 2003. Featured artists include:  Andile Yenana (piano), who also co-produced this album, Herbie Tsoaeli (bass), Prince Lengoasa (Trumpet / Flugelhorn) and Lulu Gontsana (Drums).


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