The news came unexpectedly in a text message this morning (Tuesday 13 October 2009): “Bro Winston Mankunku Ngozi has passed on. Our deepest condolences to the bereaved family and friends. May he find peace.”
Just two Sundays ago, we were paying tribute to Mankunku and his music at the inappropriately named Swingers jazz club. At the same time, we were trying to raise money to pay for his hospital costs.
I don’t quite know what was wrong with Mankunku (it was explained to me) but all I know is that he had several ailments, and that one of his fingers had to be amputated, meaning that if he ever recovered, he would not be able to perform again.
There were several highlights during the Mankunku tribute, with performances from people such as Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Duke and Ezra Ngcukana, and a surprise performance by Vicky Sampson, who spoke about the impact this formidable musician had made on her life.
Mankunku made a huge impression on my life too, along with other musicians such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Basil Coetzee, Kippie Moeketsi and Robbie Jansen.
With his wailing, lofting saxophone, on songs such as Yakhal’ Inkomo (meaning “the bellowing bull” in Xhosa) and Dudula (“forward”), Winston managed to captivate audiences across races and cultures.
Over the years, he performed all over the world with, among others, pianist Jack van Pohl, Mike Perry, Chris Schilder, Stompie Manana, Dudu Pukwana, Ernest Mothle and Roger Khoza, who also performed at the recent tribute concert.
Mankunku was born in Retreat, Cape Town, in 1943. His interest in music started at an early age when he experimented with piano and trumpet before settling on the saxophone.
The last time I saw him perform was at last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival when he made a cameo appearance during a Gavin Minter performance. I wish I could see him perform just one more time.
Hamba kahle Bra Winston. Rest in peace.