South African Music Studies

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Jonas Gwangwa: Musician And Cultural Activist

C Szymczak


In 1989 South African jazz composer and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa used the
opportunity of an internationally televised interview,1 on the occasion of the Grammy
awards in the United States, to declare on behalf of the leadership of a then exiled African
National Congress (ANC): ‘I serve the people of South Africa under the leadership of the
African National Congress. These nominations and awards are also recognition of our
people's struggles and liberation' (Sowetan 12-08-92). Gwangwa had received a
nomination for a Grammy for the song ‘Cry Freedom' in the category ‘Best Song Written
Specifically for a Motion Picture', and two nominations for an Oscar (USA): one for ‘Best
Music, Original Score', and one for ‘Best Music, Original Song'. He received further
nominations for the category ‘Best Film Score' in Golden Globes (USA), BAFTA (UK), Ivor
Novello (UK), and Anthony Askwith Award (UK), and an ‘Award of Recognition' from
Friends of the Black Emmys (USA). All these accolades were for the film Cry Freedom!2
They may well have given Gwangwa an opportunity to further his international career,
especially in the United States,3 but at that time he chose to continue working for the
ANC and to find his expression by using music politically rather than in commercial
music circles. As Caiphus Semenya puts it: ‘there is another side to Jonas … he is
extremely politically conscious … his music craft and his political craft are intertwined'
(Author's interview, 2003).

South African Music Studies Vol. 26-27 2006/7: pp. 47-70
AJOL African Journals Online