Jazz legend’s double honour

2011-04-30 15:27

Veteran trombonist Jonas Gwangwa achieved a rare feat this week when his creation, the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, was honoured with the Order of Ikhamanga (gold) by President Jacob Zuma.

Gwangwa was given the Order of Ikhamanga (gold) a year ago with another jazz legend, Hugh Masekela.

The Amandla Cultural Ensemble, formed in 1980 in Angola, was honoured for its “contribution to the struggle against apartheid through their cultural performances” on Freedom Day.

The ensemble was made up mostly of Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers.

The Order of Ikhamanga is one of six national orders which are the highest awards Zuma can bestow on citizens and foreign nationals.

Former president Nelson Mandela also honoured Gwangwa with the Order for Meritorious Service (Class II: silver) in 1999 with Miriam Makeba and Masekela, among others.

Gwangwa said it was a great honour to receive another Order of Ikhamanga.

“It’s unfortunate that Amandla didn’t return to the country (after 1990),” he said.

Amandla performed for a decade until 1990, when only some of its members returned to South Africa after the unbanning of liberation movements that year.

It started as a 45-member ensemble, which according to Gwangwa, had to be trimmed down to 35.

He plans to revive the Amandla Cultural Ensemble – with new members – for the ANC’s centenary celebrations in January next year.

“We’re still in discussions,” said Gwangwa, who would not go into details.

Gwangwa said the Amandla Cultural Ensemble raised funds for education, food and clothing for ANC exiles, MK soldiers in camps and the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania.

Among the top musicians who were part of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble was multi-instrumentalist Steve Dyer.

Gwangwa said many of the musicians who were part of Amandla had died in car accidents or illness in exile.

Gwangwa, who wrote the music for Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom, is a protégé of the late legendary saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, who mentored him in the 1950s in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

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