Top 25 South African jazz artists that you need to listen to

Top 25 South African jazz artists that you need to listen to

Jazz music is characterised by syncopated rhythms, complex harmony, and a lot of improvisation. The history of this genre can be traced to African-Americans. Today, we have numerous successful South African jazz artists. Some are alive, while others are long gone, but their music lives on.

South African jazz artists
Photo: (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Did you know that International Jazz Day is marked on 30th April yearly? On this day, South African jazz artists are celebrated and honoured.

South African jazz artists you should add to your playlist

Check out the list of famous jazz musicians from South Africa that you should add to your playlist.

25. Jonas Gwangwa

famous jazz musicians
Jonas Gwangwa during the official memorial service of late jazz legend Dorothy Masuka at the Johannesburg theatre. Photo: @Gallo Images/ Oupa Bopape
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Jonas Mosa Gwangwa
  • Date of birth: 19th October 1937
  • Date of death: 23rd January 2021
  • Age at death: 83 years
  • Place of birth: Orlando West, Soweto

Jonas Gwangwa played a crucial role in the evolution of South African jazz. He was a member of the Jazz Epistles before going solo. In 1997, he composed the theme music for South Africa's Olympic bid. He also wrote and composed music for the films Generations, Cry Freedom, and Othello.

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24. Pops Mohamed

  • Full name: Pops Mohamed
  • Date of birth: 10th December 1949
  • Age: 72 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Benoni, Gauteng

Pops Mohamed started his career with the Valients in the 1960s. He later formed Children’s Society, a band that did covers. Some tracks he released as a solo artist include Spirit, Mbira Jive, Ancestral Healing, Kalamazoo, Lolly's Song, and Never Again.

23. Andile Yenana

  • Full name: Andile Yenana
  • Year of birth: 1968
  • Age: 54 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Qonce

Andile Yenana is one of the top jazz musicians in South Africa that you should listen to. Wicked Whispers, Mr. Harris, No Lights, Oasis, Mhlekazi's Dance, and Umunyu are some of his top releases.

22. Jimmy Dludlu

famous jazz musicians
Jimmy Dludlu on stage. Photo: @Alain DUCASSE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Jimmy Dludlu
  • Date of birth: 17th November 1966
  • Age: 56 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Maputo, Mozmbique

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Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Pat Metheny are some of the artists who inspire Jimmy Dludlu. He is one of the modern jazz artists worth listening to.

His style is a beautiful blend of traditional and modern elements. Some of his songs are Tara Tara, Afrocentric, Linda, Lulama, Blues for Haiti, and Ngalanga Jazz.

21. Bheki Mseleku

  • Full name: Bhekumuzi Hyacinth Mseleku
  • Date of birth: 3rd March 1955
  • Date of death: 9th September 2008
  • Age at death: 53 years
  • Place of birth: Durban

Until his demise, Bheki Mseleku was known for blending elements of traditional African township music and American bebop. He added his unique tunes to the combination.

He was one of the jazz fusion artists whose music remains alive years after his demise. Some of his hit tracks are Celebration, Home At Last, Melancholy in Cologne, Vukani (Wake Up), Blues For Afrika, and Closer to the Source.

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20. Chris McGregor

  • Full name: Christopher McGregor
  • Date of birth: 24th December 1936
  • Date of death: 26th May 1990
  • Age at death: 53 years
  • Place of birth: Somerset West

Growing up, Chris McGregor listened to many church hymns and Xhosa dances. In college, he discovered the Black jazz scene.

He was a band leader and a solo artist. Some of his top jams are Our Prayer, You and Me, Andromeda, Do It, Sweet as Honey, Maxine, and Country Cooking.

19. Mongezi Feza

  • Full name: Mongezi Feza
  • Date of birth: 11th May 1945
  • Date of death: 14th December 1975
  • Age at death: 30 years
  • Place of birth: Queenstown

Mongezi Feza started playing the trumpet at a tender age. He played professionally in groups in his teens. Some of Feza's top jams are Mad High, Görans Söder, and Feelings.

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18. Louis Moholo

modern jazz artists
Louis Tebogo Moholo plays drums at the Vision Festival XII 'The Revolution Continues' concert at the Angel Orensanz Foundation Centre for the Arts, New York. Photo: @Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Louis Tebogo Moholo
  • Date of birth: 10th March 1940
  • Age: 82 years
  • Place of birth: Cape Town

Louis Moholo is among the top smooth jazz artists of all time. The artist comes from a musical family and is a self-taught drummer. His hit music includes Woza, Ixesha, Ithi Gqui, Amaxesha Osizi, and Khanya Apho Ukhona.

17. Johnny Dyani

  • Full name: Johnny Mbizo Dyani
  • Date of birth: 30th November 1945
  • Date of death: 24th October 1986
  • Age at death: 40 years
  • Place of birth: East London

Johnny Dyani started playing the piano and singing in a traditional choir at a tender age. At 13, he started playing bass. At one point, he was part of the Blue Notes. Feelings, Musician's Musician, Wish You Sunshine, Magwaza, and M'Bizo are some of his tracks.

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16. McCoy Mrubata

south african jazz artists
Vocalist Sibongile Khumalo, McCoy Mrubata on the saxophone, Feya Faku on fluegelhorn, Paul Hanmer on piano, Herbie Tsoaeli on acoustic bass, & Justin Badenhorst on drums. Photo: @Jack Vartoogian
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: McCoy Mrubata
  • Year of birth: 1959
  • Age: 63 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Langa, Cape Town

McCoy Mrubata's top jams include Abukho, Face the Music, Wanna Talk About It?, Hoelykit?, Phosa Ngasemva, and Hikiki. McCoy Mrubata is a jazz saxophonist, band leader, flute player, and composer. He grew up surrounded by music, which influenced who he is today.

15. Sipho Mabuse

jazz fusion artists
Sipho Hotstix Mabuse at the launch of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library at the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: @Luba Lesolle/Gallo Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse
  • Date of birth: 2nd November 1951
  • Age: 71 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Soweto

In 1984, Sipho Mabuse released his mega-hit track, Jive Soweto. The song catapulted him to fame. His music combines South African musical traditions with exciting dance rhythms. Burn Out, Thaba Bosiu, Shikisha, Zanzibar, Rumba Mama, and Welcome are among his other hit releases.

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14. Dudu Pukwana

jazz musicians in south africa
Dudu Pukwana pictured on 17th June 1971. Photo: @Lee Pearce/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Mthutuzeli Dudu Pukwana
  • Date of birth: 18th July 1938
  • Date of death: 30th June 1990
  • Age at death: 51 years
  • Place of birth: Walmer, Port Elizabeth

Dudu Pukwana studied piano and also played the sax. In 1962, he won the top prize at the Johannesburg Jazz Festival with Moyake's Jazz Giants. He was a part of the Blue Notes at one point in his career.

13. Nduduzo Makhathini

jazz musicians in south africa
Nduduzo Makhathini posing for pictures outdoors. Photo: @nduduzomakhathini (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Full name: Nduduzo Makhathini
  • Date of birth: 24th September 1982
  • Age: 40 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Umgungundlovu, Pietermaritzburg

Nduduzo Makhathini is a composer, pianist, producer, and arranger who focuses on spiritual jazz. He blends modern sensibilities with elements from his Zulu heritage. Senze' Nina, Unonkanyamba, Amathongo, Umlotha, and Isithunywa are some of his top tracks.

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12. The Sheer All Stars

  • Members: Errol Dyers, Paul Hanmer, Louis Mhlanga, McCoy Mrubata, and Sipho Gumede

The Sheer All Stars is a jazz group made of musicians who record for Sheer Sound, a renowned South African label. Some members are alive, while others are long gone.

11. Jazz Epistles

  • Members: Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela, Johnny Gertze, Early Mabuza, and Makaya Ntshoko

Jazz Epistles was a short-lived jazz group that evolved from the Jazz In Africa session. Its members were Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela, Johnny Gertze, Early Mabuza, and Makaya Ntshoko.

10. Sipho Gumede

  • Full name: Sipho Gumede
  • Date of birth: 17th April 1952
  • Date of death: 26th July 2004
  • Age at death: 52 years
  • Place of birth: Cato Manor, Durban

Sipho Gumede released numerous tracks before his demise in late July 2004. Some of his top releases were Song For Johnny Dyani, Township Jive, Alone in a Strange Place, Gabriel's Garden, and Don't Mess with Me.

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9. African Jazz Pioneers

  • Members: Albert Kumalo, Brahms Hlabatau, Sello Manyaka, Mpho Sithole, Levy Kgasii, Makhosonke Mrubata, Phillip Tau, and Madoda Gxabeka

The African Jazz Pioneers was established in the '80s. Members often play the '50s and '60s South African jazz. The group is made of veteran marabi players and younger musicians.

8. Zim Ngqawana

jazz musicians in south africa
Zim Ngqawana plays the whistle as he leads his Zimology Quartet at the NYC Winter JazzFest 2008 at the Knitting Factory Main Space, New York. Photo: @Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Zim Ngqawana
  • Date of birth: 25th December 1959
  • Date of death: 10th May 2011
  • Age at death: 51 years
  • Place of birth: Gqeberha

Zim Ngqawana was one of the leading jazz musicians in SA. He led his own band called Ingoma. Ngqawana also played with influential jazz musicians such as Max Roach, Keith Tippett, and Abdullah Ibrahim.

7. Miriam Makeba

  • Full name: Zenzile Miriam Makeba
  • Date of birth: 4th March 1932
  • Date of death: 9th November 2008
  • Age at death: 76 years
  • Place of birth: Johannesburg

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Most people knew Miriam Makeba as Mama Africa. She is best remembered for Pata Pata, The Click Song, Amampondo, Saduva, and Nomeva. The late Makeba remains the most important female vocalist to emerge out of South Africa.

6. Bokani Dyer

  • Full name: Bokani Dyer
  • Date of birth: 21st January 1986
  • Age: 36 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Gaborone

Bokani Dyer is known for Ke Nako and Vuvuzela. He is a multi-award-winning Motswana-South African composer, pianist, and producer. He creates jazz music blended with elements of electronic, classical, R&B, and salsa.

5. Alex Van Heerden

  • Full name: Alex van Heerden
  • Date of birth: 23rd November 1974
  • Date of death: 7th January 2009
  • Age at death: 34 years
  • Place of birth: Cape Town

Alex Van Heerden is remembered for Bitter Lewe, Oompie, Reversable Thorax, Grön Lök, and Donkievet. He was a jazz musician from Cape Town.

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4. Hugh Masekela

south african jazz artists
Hugh Masekela being bestowed with a sixth doctorate by Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: @Gallo Images/ Sowetan/ Thulani Mbele
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Hugh Ramapolo Masekela
  • Date of birth: 4th April 1939
  • Date of death: 23rd January 2018
  • Age at death: 78 years
  • Place of birth: Emalahleni Local Municipality

Hugh Masekela is remembered as the father of SA jazz and one of the earliest innovators in the world fusion genre. He was a talented trumpeter and band leader. Some of his hit tracks are Stimela, Market Place, Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), Politician, and Don't Go Lose It Baby.

3. Moses Khumalo

  • Full name: Moses Khumalo
  • Date of birth: 30th January 1979
  • Date of death: 4th September 2006
  • Age at death: 27 years
  • Place of birth: Soweto

Moses Khumalo was only 27 years old when he passed away. The brilliant artist released hit tracks, including Ngwana Wa Mme, Celebrate Mzansi, Very Happy, Hymn for Taiwa, and You Drive Me Crazy.

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2. Abdullah Ibrahim

  • Full name: Abdullah Ibrahim
  • Date of birth: 9th October 1934
  • Age: 88 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Cape Town

Abdullah Ibrahim is a South African pianist, flutist, soprano saxophonist, and composer known for Ishmael, The Wedding, Mannenberg, The Mountain, Damara Blue, and Whoza Mtwana.

1. Don Laka

  • Full name: Donald Mahwetša Laka
  • Date of birth: 15th December 1958
  • Age: 63 years (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Mamelodi, Pretoria

With multiple hitmaking albums, Don Laka is the owner of Bokone Music and co-founder of Kalawa Jazzmee. Some of his bestselling albums include Rebirth of Kwaai Jazz, Afro Chopin, Paradise, The Essential, and Destiny.

Who started South African jazz?

The Jazz Epistles were one of the first major bebop groups in South Africa in the 1950s. The group was made up of Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela, Johnny Gertze, Early Mabuza, and Makaya Ntshoko.

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Who is the father of South African jazz?

Hugh Masekela is respected as the father of South African jazz. The late artist started playing the trumpet in the 1950s.

There are many South African jazz artists who have released music you should listen to. These artists are respected for their passion and love for good music.

READ ALSO: Famous South African musicians 2022: Top 20 greatest artists recently published a list of famous South African musicians you should know. South Africa offers a burgeoning music scene of eclectic local talent.

The country is home to some of the top artists on the continent. These artists sing in different languages and different genres.

Source: Briefly News

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