His autobiography has recently been written by acclaimed music academic Colette Szymczak.
It would be difficult to find a more accomplished and versatile jazz musician than Gwangwa. This South African paragon has thrilled audiences around the world with his artistry as a trombonist/composer and all around creative genius. The span of his musical career and the range of his accomplishments, make it difficult to categorise his talents. For over 30 years, he traversed the world as an exile, collecting accolades at every stop along the way. A product of the turbulent but musically significant 1950’s, Gwangwa emerged from the humble environs of Orlando East in Soweto. He electrified the famous Sophiatown music scene until it became illegal for Blacks to congregate and South African musicians were regularly thrown in jail merely for performing their craft. In spite of the restrictions, he blazed a fiery path in South Africa by establishing and playing with virtually every important band of the era, including the Jazz Epistles, a group that included such icons as Kippie Moeketsi, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Gertse and Makhaya Ntshoko. The Epistles were the first South African band to record a long playing record. In 1961, Gwangwa left his home country to tour England with the hit musical "King Kong". When the tour ended, he ventured to the United States to further his education at New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music. He continued to reside in the U.S for 15 years, earning his American "break" through the patronage of musical legend Harry Belafonte. Over the years, Belafonte has been a staunch supporter of both the ANC and Jonas Gwangwa’s personal career. Gwangwa has also been a compatriot of a virtual who’s who of world music including Ahmad Jamal, Herb Alpert and contemporaries Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Caiphus Semenya. Believing that "politics and culture cannot be separated," Gwangwa’s total commitment to the struggle to end apartheid is intrinsic to his music. An official "enemy of the state" for many years, Gwangwa narrowly escaped death in 1985 when his home was blown up by South African security forces. (Several of his close friends were killed.) His lifework crystallised when he served as composer, arranger and musical director of "Amandla", the much-heralded worldwide ANC cultural ensemble tour to which he devoted ten years of his life. He also had a national tour of Nigeria with Amandla Cultural Ensemble of the African National Congress in 1985. A prolific composer, Gwangwa joined forces with George Fenton to create the original score and theme song for the much-heralded Richard Attenborough film Cry Freedom. The score achieved Oscar, Grammy Bafta, Golden Globe and Anthony Asquith award nominations and won Ivor Novello and Black Emmy Awards. Gwangwa returned to South Africa in 1991. His lifelong dream of freedom was realised in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president of a democratic new South Africa.
Musical scores / theme music and accolades – chronology
Received the Simon Mabhunu Sabelo Film Award for his contribution to Film (August 2013) Received an honorary doctorate in Education from the Walter Sisulu University (Honoris Causa) May 2012 Received an honorary doctorate in Literature and Philosophy from the University of South Africa (Honoris Causa) May 2012 “Kukude Lapho Sivelakhona” Exhibition for Jonas Gwangwa – Presented by the Nelson Mandela Foundation – (2011) Received the Order of Ikhamanga – President Jacob Zuma (2010) Received the Lifetime achievement Award from the South African Minister of Arts & Culture at the Wurzburg African Festival Germany 2010 Released “Kukude lapho sivela khona” - (2009) Received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz (2009) Recorded “Live at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival” DVD (2006) Received Night of the 50’s Award – Department of Arts & Culture Musical Director for Sing Africa Dance commissioned by The department of Arts and Culture for NEPAD – (2005) Composed and choral music “Halala President Mbeki” for President Mbeki’s inauguration, 27th April 2004 Composed and performed the National Coat of Arms (April 2004) Composed soundtrack for Walter Sisulu’s documentary (March 2004) Best Contemporary Album: African (South African Music Awards -2003 for Sound from Exile) Sounds From Exile: Gold Status (2003 – Sony Music S.A) Temporary Inconvenience: Gold Status (2003 – Sony Music S.A.) Received S.A.B. Leadership award. (2002) Released CD Sounds From Exile. (2001) Called upon by Minister of Arts to direct National Indigenous Music and Dance Ensemble. (2001) Composed Theme song for South African National Coat of Arms. (2001) Presented with SAMA Lifetime Achievement Award. (2000) 1999 Released CD Diphororo. (Gallo) 1999 Released CD Temporary Inconvenience. (Sony) Presented with Meritorious Award by President Nelson Mandela. (1999) Composed theme song to E-TV News. (1998) Composed score for play “Jonas” a biography and performed it in Nouméa, New Caledonia and Paris, France. "South African Olympic Bid" – theme music, composer (1997) "African American Summit" - African American summit anthem, composer (1997) "Generations" – TV soap opera series, theme composer, nominated for SABC Arts Award for "Best Incidental Music" (1995) "Soweto Green" – South African feature film, soundtrack composer (1995) "Masakhane" – South African RDP community programme, theme song composer (1995) "Night Moves" – Dali Thambo TV music/variety show, theme composer and musical director (1993-1994) “Together Against Crime" – Ministry of Safety & Security rally, theme composer (1994) “Ulibambe Lingashoni" – ANC documentary, theme composer (1992) "Drumbeats" – TV series, theme composer for first episode (1992) "Matla Trust Voter Education Project"- theme song composer (1992) "Land of Dreams" – BBC film, soundtrack composer (1989) "Cry Freedom" – Oscar and Academy Award nomination for original song and score (1987 – 1988) Received a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Award (1988) Received nomination from Golden Globe Award, Grammy Award and Anthony Asquith (1988) Received the Ivor Nobello for the Film Cry Freedom(1988) "Destructive Engagement" – TV documentary, soundtrack composer (1987) "Providence Garden Blues" – George Bass play/artist in residence at Brown University, United States (1984)
ANC Centenary Celebration Mangaung - 2012 King Letsie Commemorative Celebration Maseru, Lesotho 2011 Performed at the Lauch of the North West Platinum Jazz Festival ANC Road to Centenary Celebration Kimberley 2011 Performed at the Launch of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation – 2011 Performed at the Launch of the Luanda Jazz Festival 2010 Performed at the Shanghai Expo, China 2010 Performed at the Parliamentary Opening in Cape Town 2010 Performed at the AU Summit Ethiopia, Addis Ababa 2009 Freedom Day Celebration Tour of the Middle East for the Department of International Relations and Corporation 2008 Performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival – The Hague, Holland – July 2004 Performed at the Mary Fitzgerald Square for the 2010 World Cup Bid – March 2004 Performed at the Presidential inauguration, Thabo Mbeki – 27 April 2004 Performed at the Queen Elizabeth II – Birkingham, London England – October 2003 Performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival – Cape Town, South Africa – March 2003 Composed the theme song for the African Union and performed at the launch in Durban (Absa Stadium, July 09, 2002) Formed National Indigenous Music and Dance Ensemble and performed pilot program in Mangaung (Bloemfontein, April 27,2002) Performed at the opening of Parliament in Cape Town, Fernwood Estate. (February 08 2002) Performed at the 65th Birthday of Orlando Pirates Performed at the opening of the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown JHB. (December 2001) Performed at the 40th Anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe (ANC’s military wing) in Soweto. (December 2001) Performed at the 40th Anniversary of the Reunion of the Rivonia trialists, Lillies farm, Rivonia. (December 2001) Performed at the National teachers Award at Presidential Guest House. (2001) Performed at the Royal Albert Halls Proms, London UK. (1999) "African Explosion" – band leader/tour of Britain, France, East & West Germany (1989) Performed at Mandela’s 70th Birthday – Wembley Stadium and Hyde Park, England (1988) Academy Awards Ceremony – standing ovation performance in Los Angeles (1987) "Amandla" – ANC worldwide cultural tour in over 40 countries, Artistic Director (1980 – 1990) Performed at the Festival of Arts and Culture “Festac” - Nigeria tour (1977) Composed the sound track for Othello an All Black Cast film version in USA (1973 – 1974) Produced Miriam Makeba’s Phatha-Phatha 1967 Miriam Makeba at Philharmonic Hall – Lincoln Centre, New York, Musical Director and Trombonist (1967) "The Sound of Africa" at Carnegie Hall – New York with Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Letta Mbulu (1965) Produced “An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba’s Grammy Award Winning Album
- Jürgen Schadeberg, Don Albert Jazz, Blues and Swing: Six Decades of Music in South Africa. 2007, ISBN 978-0-86486-705-6
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