Jazz has worn many hats: big-band – swing enjoyed straw-hats, be-bop went for afro-berets and cool-jazz for stetsons. The style, the music all comes from the same core, the expression.
And if one South African artist can be remembered by his hat – it’s Winston Mankunku with that funky Nike peak. Not a traditional hat, nor a jazz convention, but a hat that indicates Mankunku’s style – Afro-American jazz, the expression of the black diaspora.
Mankunku identified and empathised with America’s parallel stream of socio-cultural suppression, the shouts and screams from the free jazz of Coltrane and Coleman. Avant-garde and free-form could best express the frustrations, the hardships and the rigid, oppressive and destructive laws of the period.
His signature tune, ‘Yakhal Nkomo’ (Raging Bull) became famous locally and abroad quickly entering the soul of the struggle and he became the anchoring jazz-man on the local scene.
Whilst vibrant communities were destroyed and inter-racial interaction banned. Mankunku skirted restrictions and hid his race by playing behind curtains at gigs under the alias Winston Man. But, when he received barely any financial reward from the successes of Yakhal Nkomo, Winston quit the scene, disillusioned, cynical and broken by this exploitation.
It was only until the late ’70s that he was inspired to play again, going on to record Jika and Dudula with Mike Perry.
His latest album, ‘Molo Africa’ (Hello Africa), is a beautiful blend of the traditional African rhythms of mbaqanga, and spacious yet bustling sax-improvisation. It is the quintessential South African jazz album, and a victorious tribute to a great musician. His excellence was finally recognised in 1999, where he won the South African Music Association (SAMA) award for best traditional jazz.
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