Ryland Fisher
Ryland Fisher

Hamba kahle Winston Mankunku Ngozi

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.

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  • Thobekani

    Thank you for this important piece of writing, i must say we need much and extensive pieces like these about our musical legends, their footprint and / or contribution as it were in the industry as a whole and perhaps at a larger scale than the music itself – which i continue to learn with interest,the importance of this information knows no boundaries in terms of establishing and restoring pride as a people, and for the now children to know they’ll be everything they want to be in the world as it awaits them just like it did to thier forefathers, we just even learned that Zim was invited to be in the forefront in the project that is a tribute to the great Thelonius Monk in America, that on its would be great not just [for our youths] to know but see where they are positioned in the world generally and can serve as an inspiration – ngithi awu! hamba kahle Bab’uNgozi! yakhal’inkomo!

  • http://www.howzit-hongkong.com Mike Jansen

    I just found out about the sad passing of Bra Winston. I have not had the honour of hearing him play live, but I too grew up on the music of the elders like Mankunku, uncle Robbie, Basil Manenberg Coetzee and the many others. When I left for abroad, his was some of the music that I brought with me to keep me in touch with home.
    It’s a fact that our elders are not better off financially than they were when they started in the music industry, but I know Bra Winston will be happy because, in my humble opinion, jazz is alive in Cape Town. In no small part to his legacy.
    I salute you Bra Winston.
    Go well.

    Mike Jansen (Hong Kong)

  • http://www.thetimes.co.za Fred Khumalo

    Eish, what a loss

  • Luxolo Mbadu

    Masenze amathamzanqa, sithi makube ndlela nthle…. Indeed South Africa has lost a great man in the music fraternity, more especially that of Jazz. Rest in peace Tshawe, Rharhabe, Phalo; uMzamo omhle uwuzamile.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/kanthanpillay Kanthan Pillay

    Particularly in light of Maestro Abdullah Ibrahim’s stunning 75th birthday performance last Friday, this is a reminder to seize every opportunity to see these, our living legends, while they are still alive. Basil is gone, Monty is gone, Bra Winston is gone…

    Robbie is still with us — enjoy him if you get the chance.

    Thanks for the tribute Mr Fisher.

  • http://www.donvalley.co.za Solly MOENG


    Nice tribute and thanks for the invitation to the lovely Sunday afternoon celebration of this giant’s life and music!

    We should celebrate many of them before they pass on!!

  • wes johansen

    Oh Winnie, how sad I am. I am thinking of Octavia, of Gertrude, of Francis Kente from Gugs, who loved you more than life itself, and I am thinking of your “baby”, your sax, whom you loved more than life itself……..of Wally Serote, who felt your music inside and talked to you in poetry and pain. I am thinking about Chick Corea, who always, always sent his love to you, and MEANT it. And as I sit here, remembering every word of the last conversation we had, along with 34 years of friendship, trust and faith, the courage we had, when we were “young” lions……..and yes, my sweet, pure, compassionate and loving brother, I knew your heart, and heard your voice even when you were silent, and long understood that the only real conversation you had in life, was with your “baby” (saxophone)- who was your child, your friend, your mistress……..and when you were in musical conversation, we knew what heaven meant and felt like. Gugs will never be the same, and yes, Winnie, I know what you meant when you said you were an old monkey, in the jungle of lies. I know also that when you loved someone, you would say ” I REALLY hate you, like, what I means is……I really, really hate you because I love you”…grrrrrrrr…….and when it rains, when the wind blows, when the storm brews, and all hell breaks loose > I will hear your soul crying, your music breathing,

  • wes johansen

    and when you get to heaven, my Winnie, Octavia and Gertrude will be waiting for you, along with all the hearts and souls who inspired your life and your music. We waged battles, and we won wars with music, because we had the heart to do it, now, my warrior, my old beloved friend, those who really loved you will embrace you, and comfort your soul.
    My love to Patrick and Thuli, and mama Francis Kente, who will keep your flame alive. I love you too, and always will. wes johansen

  • Lulama Ntentesa

    I wish I could have seen him perform live.
    A great loss indeed

  • Steven Lamini

    Thanks to Noel van Stade who introduced me to Winston and his music, I now know the steady radiance of an unsetting light, filling my commonest ways with sounds that are new everyday. Travel well, Bra Winnie. Fitting tribute, Ryland.

  • Mountain

    I am only 28, but I know most of his songs… my favourite was “A song for Bra Desmond”…… Lala kahle Ngozi!!!!!






  • http://www.invent.co.za Lindiwe Kula

    Aphelil’amathemba, yalal’inkomo isengwa.
    Wanga umphefumlo wakho ungaphumla ngoxolo, tata wethu. Ohhhh kufa wena ulutshaba ufanelwe kukubhangiswa. RIP Mr. Ngozi

  • zanele sidzumo baqwa

    my cousin sister thembi sidzumo sanders(exwife of pharaoh sanders) told me once in exile that she played Mankunku for her husband and asked him to guess who the performer was, he said wayne shorter. I had to tell this story to Mankunku at the dolphin jazz restaurant one time as my late husband and I acknowledged him with a bottle of champagne. was he all smiles…..