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Early years in South Africa
Dudu Pukwana grew up studying piano in his family, but in 1956 he switched to alto sax after meeting tenor sax player Nikele Moyake. In 1962, he won first prize at the Johannesburg Jazz Festival with Moyake's Jazz Giants (1962 Gallo/Teal). In his early days he also played with Kippie Moeketsi. Chris McGregor then invited him to join the pioneering Blue Notes sextet where he played along with Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo. Although The Blue Notes are often considered McGregor's group, Pukwana was initially the principal composer and all the group members had pivotal roles.
Emigration to Europe
As mixed-race groups were illegal under apartheid, the Blue Notes, increasingly harassed by authorities, emigrated to Europe in 1964, playing in France and Zurich, and eventually settling in London. After The Blue Notes split in the late 1960s, Pukwana joined McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath big band, which again featured his soloing heavily. As a composer Pukwana wrote "Mra," one of the best-loved tunes by the Brotherhood.
Assagai, Spear and Zila
He also went on to form two groups with Feza and Moholo. The first was Assagai, an afro-rock band who recorded for the Vertigo label. The second was Spear, with whom he recorded the seminal afro-jazz album In The Townships in 1973 for Virgin Records at The Manor Studio. Assagai and Spear, which recorded a few albums in the early 1970s, blended kwela rhythms, rocking guitars, and jazz solos.
Later Pukwana's fiery voice was heard in many diverse settings ranging from the Incredible String Band to improvising with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink (Yi Yo Le, ICP 1978). With Mongezi Feza, Elton Dean, Keith Tippett, and Louis Moholo, Pukwana recorded two masterful acoustic tracks on the mostly electric album Diamond Express (Freedom 1977). The death of his great friend Mongezi Feza in 1975 also inspired the heart-rending "Blue Notes For Mongezi" (Ogun Records), alongside Blue Notes colleagues Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor and Louis Moholo. He also guested on albums with his former Blue Notes colleague, Johnny Dyani, particularly "Witchdoctor's Son", which features some of his best recorded work and played extensively with the drummer John Stevens. Several African leaders invited him into their groups, including Hugh Masekela and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa's African Explosion (Who, Ngubani 1969).
Zila and the later years
In 1978, Pukwana founded Jika Records and formed his own band, Zila, featuring South Africans Lucky Ranku on guitar and powerful vocalist Miss Pinise Saul. Zila recorded Zila Sounds (1981), Live in Bracknell and Willisau (1983) partly recorded at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, and Zila (1986), the last with keyboardist Django Bates and Pukwana increasingly using soprano sax. In duo with John Stevens, he recorded the free session They Shoot to Kill (Affinity Records, 1987), dedicated to Johnny Dyani.
Dudu Pukwana died of liver failure in June 1990, not long after the death of his longtime friend and colleague McGregor.
An audio sample of "File:Angel Nemali" (from In the Townships, 1973)
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- 1969 Dudu Pukwana and Spear (Quality LTJ-S 232, May 1969)
- 1971 Assagai Assagai (Vertigo)
- 1972 Assagai Zimbabwe (Vertigo)
- 1973 Simba and Assagai Afro Rock Festival (Contour 2870 311) 
- 1973 In the Townships (Virgin C1504)
- 1975 Diamond Express (Freedom Records)
- 1975 Flute Music (Caroline- Earthworks rerelease)
- 1979 Yi Yole (ICP)
- 1981 Zila Sounds Live At The 100 Club (Jika Records JIKAZLC1)
- 1983 Live in Bracknell and Willisau (Jika JIKAZL2)
- 1986 Zila Zila 86 (Jika JIKAZL3)
- 1987 Mbizo Radebe [They Shoot to Kill] (Affinity)
- 1990 Cosmics Chapter 90 (Ah Um)