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unsung heroes of South African Jazz

Combining the freedom of jazz expression with decidedly political commitment

Music is a healing force that needs to be shared and made available to people from all walks of life. Music is also a migratory force that is able to connect people of all cultures.

Blue Notes go free-er than free!

When the Blue Notes came over, it was initially bebop, but then there was this whole free movement that grew. And the South Africans got onto that because they had an advantage, because the free music, the need to express, comes through oppression and depression. 

“Free music is it man, it’s so beautiful. The word “free” makes sense to me. I know that’s what I want, freedom, let my people go. Let me people go! And that’s interlinking with politics, they embrace each other. It’s a cry from the inside, no inhibitions … And the colours are so beautiful, there’s a cry, there’s joy, a joyful noise, there’s sadness, there’s rain, there’s winter, there’s love … that’s why it’s beautiful.” Louis Moholo 

The South Africans embraced the free music and pushed it further and pushed the boundaries to the point that people like Evan Parker and Keith Tippit were like, “No, that’s what we want to do. Yes, yes, yes. We can hear where that’s going.”

The American influence was there. But now they were hearing something from Africa too. And that opened up a whole new chapter of music in Europe. Almost suddenly there was a European jazz scene too that came through with the free music. And it was big.

Louis Moholo was the last survivor of this all-star Blue Notes band. In collaboration with a generation of inspired European jazz musicians, the Blue Notes certainly created a new language of a free music built on a deep African soul. And they were extensive in their impact.  The Blue Notes was a powerful arrival of South African music in Europe. Louis Moholo spoke a little about the Blue Notes in an interview with Richard Scott.

He said, “We were strict and really very concentrated on this music. It was like something very urgent we had to do, and our first record was called Very Urgent. It was just like a flower that burst open.”

Chris was very broad minded, a very, very clever cat. In the end he was very proud of us, and we were very proud of him, secretly.”

louis moholo

And the Blue Notes were good friends. “Mr Dudu Pukwana was a ton of music, he used to compose about four songs a day, even in the hardship of South Africa, and he practiced every day. Dudu was just the pillar of the Blue Notes. Dudu the blessed light, he was special. And Mongz was the darling really, the sweetheart of the band. Everyone loved him, Monz would knock us out, everybody! Then in South Africa we had Nic Moyake. Nic was the older guy to us, and we respected him, he had more knowledge of music – indigenous music, music of the heart. He was just music and he pulled us together in terms of strength. Everybody had a part to play.

“Then, of course, Johnny – every song that we played Johnny would cream it and make it so beautiful. Johnny was so musical, anything he did was … he was kind of like a godsend for us, he had some magic about him. And we knew from the start, when he was a young boy with a singing band and I was playing drums backing them, he was such a fantastic singer – singing the high notes with such ease. Then he switched from alto singing to bass playing, and he played it so well. He just fitted like a glove, he was in the same vibe as us, and he put the music of the Blue Notes where it was at. He was a gift from heaven.  

“Then Chris. We would naturally get into songs, we would take them lightly, like kindergarten songs, and Chris, maybe typically of a Westerner, would leave no stone unturned and he saw the gold, which we didn’t because we were in the gold. He saw this beautiful music and did something about it. He organized it, put it into perspective from his musical knowledge. So, we had everything in there. Chris was very broad minded, a very, very clever cat. In the end he was very proud of us, and we were very proud of him, secretly.”

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About Sausage Films

Sausage Films produces audio visual works for better accessibility of South African Jazz and freedom culture to a include wider young and old audiences across gender, age, and colour. Celebrating the pioneers and legends of South African Jazz and freedom who left a legacy of sacrifice, self-expression, wisdom and bravery.

About Jazz Against Apartheid

After the inaugural Jazz Against Apartheid in Berlin 1986. Juergen Leinhos and his organisation Kultur im Ghetto continue the event building on the SA exiles and growing the movement to progressive European musicians. The JAA Archive of this era is a complete archive of 25 years of exile history.

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