Zuma mourns jazz legend
Johnny Mekoa was first black musician with a jazz degree
World-renowned trumpeter and music educator Dr Ramakgobotla Johnny Mekoa was a remarkable musician who contributed immensely to the music sector, President Jacob Zuma said.
“He selflessly imparted his musical knowledge and skills to aspirant musicians, especially children from poor backgrounds,” Zuma said.
“May his legacy be an inspiration to others to be selfless teachers in different fields, in order to build a better and prosperous South Africa. We wish to convey our sincere condolences to the Mekoa family and the music industry at large. May his soul rest in peace.”
Mekoa died on Monday, at the age of 72. He established the Gauteng Music Academy in 1994, teaching jazz music to the community, especially the youth.
In 2015, Zuma conferred on Mekoa the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, an award for South African citizens who have excelled in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
Earlier, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said that Mekoa was one of South Africa’s most talented and selfless sons.
“We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of the trumpet player and head of the Gauteng Music Academy, Johnny Mekoa,” said Mthethwa.
“Over the years, he has done so much to provide musical skills to talented youth and he has pursued this calling to teach and impart knowledge with both passion and perseverance.
“His own contribution to South African music has been immense. From optical dispenser to heading a music academy, he had the vision for looking ahead and addressing the needs of new times.”
Mekoa was born in Benoni and wanted to pursue a musical education and career, but circumstances at the time did not allow him to do so, the department said.
Together with other musicians, he continued to play in bands and groups and inspired new generations and new sounds, even if he was prevented from travelling abroad by the apartheid government, which refused to give him a passport.
At 41, Mekoa began formal tertiary studies in music and earned a Bachelor’s degree in music from the then University of Natal. Later he took up a Fulbright Scholarship and studied for a Masters in Music at the University of Indiana in the US.
The department said Mekoa’s contribution to arts education was through the establishment of the Music Academy of Gauteng.
“He has been a life-affirming force in musical education. He was not content only to play an instrument and to bask in the light of his own creativity and glory, but in the spirit of ubuntu, he needed to share that light with others,” said Mthethwa.
“We shall remember Johnny Mekoa for his life’s work and his love for people, for encouraging youth and sustaining our music.”
Chairperson of the Living Legends Legacy Programme, Welcome Msomi, paid tribute to Mekoa, saying: “He was committed to raising the status of young musicians to achieve excellence. This is a testament to his tireless work in establishing and maintaining the Gauteng Music Academy against all the odds. So many of our people are going to miss him dearly.”
Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation Faith Mazibuko this week paid her respects to Mekoa.
“It is with heartfelt sorrow and pain that I learned of the passing of one of the most respected and prominent jazz and music brains South Africa has ever produced, Dr Johnny Mekoa. A great human being, teacher and most of all, a dear friend. The first black student with a degree in jazz, he went on to get a Masters,” she said.
“We in Gauteng and aspiring jazz musicians throughout the country and elsewhere have lost dearly, but his legacy will live forever
“We’ve lost a great teacher, artist, musician and a leader in the music industry. May his soul rest in peace and his legacy continue to be an inspiration to the nation and bring comfort to the loved ones he left behind.”
Mazibuko said that Mekoa’s hard work was noticed worldwide and he was awarded many accolades including the Life Achievement Award by the Swedish Jazz Federation, and the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mekoa played an important role in the establishment of the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival which takes place annually during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, she said.
JAZZ LEGEND: Music educator Dr Ramakgobotla Johny Mekoa