"MANKUNKU" has become a legend in his own time, and is a name which evokes
powerful musical images not only for close followers of South African township
jazz, but for music lovers all over southern Africa.
Over the last three
decades, formative years in the development of SA jazz, "Mankunku" has been a
beacon for trends and styles in the genre. Today, "Mankunku" is the foremost
exponent of tenor saxophone in South Africa, and one of the most respected
composers in jazz.
Born in Retreat, Cape Town in 1943, Winston was the first-born in a musical
family. He started "fooling around" on the piano at age seven, and later tried
his hand at both clarinet and trumpet. In his mid-teens, however, he decided
that the sound of the saxophone was the sound he wanted, and started to learn
the alto, then the tenor saxophone. During this period, he cites John Coltrane,
local saxophonist "Cups & Saucers", pianist Merton Barrow, as well as bassist
Midge Pike, in whose band the young Winston received his 'initiation' as a
professional musician, as major influences.
Over the years, "Mankunku" has worked with virtually all major South African
jazz artists, from Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana, to Barney Rachabane and
Victor Ntoni. He has also been involved in several projects with the legendary
Port Elizabeth group The Soul Jazz Men.
In contrast to many colleagues who left the country to further their careers in
Europe and the United States, "Mankunku" chose to remain in his native Cape
Town. This meant, however, that he was subjected to the Separate Amenities Act
and similar Apartheid legislation. A classic tale tells of his performance with
an all-white big band in the Cape Town City Hall in 1964, where, because a
mixed-race band was unlawful, he was forced to play behind a curtain so as to
remain out of sight.
Saxophone, arranger, bandleader
African Jazz, jazz
With the milestone release of "Yakhal' Inkomo" by "Mankunku Quartet" in 1968,
Winston became a household name in South African townships. The album title is
directly translated from Xhosa as "the bellowing bull", and refers to the
particularly anguished cry made by cattle as they go to the slaughter.
Containing obvious inferences to the situation of blacks in South Africa,
"Yakhal'Inkomo" has become one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time in
South Africa, and was recorded with the Early Mabuza Trio featuring the
legendary drummer, bassist Agrippa Magwaza, and pianist Lionel Pillay. In the
same year, he received the Castle Lager "Jazz Musician of the Year" Award.
"Yakhal' Inkomo" has become one of the all-time classic South African jazz
albums, re-released by Teal in 1975, 1985 and 1989, and is since February 1996
available for the first time on CD though Polygram (SA)..
During the next few years, "Mankunku" was part of only two other releases as the
featured saxophonist, with the Chris Schilder Quintet in 1969 and The Cliffs,
which comprised a number of "Mankunku's" long-time associates including Stompie
Manana and Roger Khoza, in 1975. However, disillusioned with the music industry
after these recordings, he shied away from recordings for over ten years, apart
from an appearance under pseudonym in 1976 on Sammy Hartman's "District Six" LP.
Working with pianist Mike Perry since the early 1980's, "Mankunku" recorded and
released the acclaimed album "Jika" in 1986 on their joint record label Nkomo.
Recorded both in Cape Town and London, "Jika" featured a number of exiled South
African musicians, including Bheki Mseleku, Russell Herman, and Lucky Ranku. The
album has since been released in Australia (Avan-Guard), the US (Intersound) and
in Germany (ITM) under the title "Crossroads".
In 1989, "Mankunku" and Perry toured Europe briefly, and performed in Germany
and in the UK, with exiles Dudu Pukwana, Ernest Mothle and Gilbert Matthews.
During the last few years, "Mankunku" has been a major attraction at events such
as the annual Standard Bank Grahamstown National Arts Festival (1990, '91 and
'93), "Sax Appeal...The Journey Continues" at Sun City Superbowl (1992),
Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival (1993) and the Johannesburg Guinness Jazz
Festival (1993). In 1993, Mankunku also made two rare live recordings, one for
Radio South Africa's "Live At..." series, and one for CCV TV's Jazz Studio.
Today, "Mankunku" works with a quintet comprising the cream of South Africa's
jazz musicians. Since 1992, Mankunku Quintet the band has toured extensively
throughout southern Africa, and also completed a highly successful 12-stop tour
of Sweden at the invitation of the Swedish Jazz Federation late in 1993. During
1996, he was invited to Belgium twice, performing together with pianist Jack Van
While many jazz musicians of his generation chose to pursue international
careers, "Mankunku" remained in South Africa and only travelled internationally
more than 25 years after his breakthrough with "Yakhal'Inkomo". For "Mankunku",
artistic authenticity and his relationship with his home audience have been of
paramount importance. Over the years, he has become a hallmark of spiritual
integrity in South African music, and a vital link between the Afro- and
American jazz forms.
this biography by Christian Syren, Making Music Productions cc
photographs © Steve Gordon, Musicpics Africa
A clip of the track "Give Peace a Chance (een liedjie vir Saldanha Bay)" plays on opening this page. Press F5 to replay.
From the album "Abantwana be Afrika", Sheer Sound 2003. Catalogue No.SSCD 098
Making Music Artist Agency