MANDLA Mlotshwa was a pianist, composer, arranger and businessman extraordinaire.
South Africa, and Durban in particular, has an enormous wealth of jazz talent. Alongside the likes of Lionel Pillay, Chris Joseph, Theo Bophela, Melvin Peters and Neil Gonsalves, the talented piano maestro made his mark on the Durban jazz scene in the early 1980s.
Mlotshwa’s mentor, teacher and improvisation master was the late Bobby Mofokeng, a pianist from Lamontville, outside Durban, who inspired Mandla to master the subtle and sublime art of rhythm, harmony, improvisation, swing and chord structure.
Mandla was youthful, refreshing and quite capable of taking the audience through a musical journey and back to the point of departure without a hint of regret.
With him you could visit the hot jazz spots in the West and hear the legendary Keith Jarreth, Dave Brubeck, the blues of Monk Higgins, Jimmy Smith and the fusion sounds of Rodney Franklin.
No need to panic – he wouldn’t leave you there. Mandla would take you back to Manenberg, to District Six, where the tantalising sounds of kwela, marabi and mbaqanga could be heard.
It was in vibrant communities like Sophiatown where the pianist belonged, but he’d never been there.
South African jazz was what made Mandla Mlotshwa tick, but he was equally at home with mainstream jazz, fusion and avant-garde. He said it was always a pleasure playing at the Moon Hotel in Clairwood, Durban, the home of jazz since the 1960s.
What more could be said about this man except to let him speak for himself and his music?
“Music is a conversation with the spirits. When we play music, we know what the harmonic, melodic and rhythm components of the music are. We wait for our spirits to guide us to play over that as a promise for improvisation.”
Mandla came from a creative, artistic family. His father ran an art centre at Hibberdene.
Mandla’s academic background included a Higher Diploma in Light Music from the former Natal Technikon (now the Durban University of Technology). He also completed a sound technician’s diploma and was studying towards a degree in community law at the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Apart from his successful musical career, in 2008 he was appointed as the centre manager at Stable Theatre, and contributed a lot to the arts in terms of managing the centre to achieve sustainability.
Mandla excelled at business. Among his recent businesses was his Global Travel and Tours company. The community was always in his heart, and his construction company played a key role in building low-cost houses in Ladysmith.
South Africa will certainly miss the talents of Mandla, who inspired many young musicians to take their musical careers more seriously.
May his family have the strength to cope with this loss. May his soul rest in peace, and may the angels welcome him in heaven with open arms. – Artsmart.co.za
• Ramoll Bugwandeen is the creative director of Jazz@ the Moon Hotel and the Durban International World Music Festival and a former board member of Stable Theatre.