IT was growing up in a home of musical greats that rooted jazz violinist Tshepo Mngoma in music.
He was mentored by his grandfather, the late University of Zululand professor, Khabi Mngoma, and his mother, Sibongile Khumalo.
But the South African Music Award (Sama) winner, who will play in KZN this week, explained that jazz was something he stumbled upon while at university.
“The violin was one of the instruments my grandfather taught. He taught the piano, voice training, marimba, violin and recorder. He used to run an after-school youth programme at the University of Zululand.
“So at a very young age I was introduced to many different instruments. But I loved the sound of violin. I loved the instrument.
“The decision to go jazz came later in life. When I was at the University of Durban Westville, that’s where it started, when I started playing with a band.
“But when I got to UCT, I found out they had a jazz programme. So I switched because initially I had registered for a classical programme. And it just grew from there,” he explained.
After winning his Sama for Best Newcomer for his debut album, People and Places (2009), Mngoma again shared his musical gift through his newest album, The Journey, which was released in February.
He said the album draws its influences from some of his accomplishments, musical growth and experiences.
“The beauty of this album is that I feature more people. One of the tracks, called Migrations Songs, features Hugh Masekela. Another song features Themba Makoena, a brilliant guitarist who was a great influence on Jimmy Dludlu as well.
“I also feature my wife, Swazi Dlamini. And the collaboration is not only performance-wise, but also from the composition side where I involved more composers.
“So I believe that in sharing music and ideas, that is how one grows in music. And getting to feature in collaborations and working with other people is how you pick up influences and that is where you grow. So I definitely feel that I’ve grown in this production, both in performance and music production,” he said.
Mngoma is well known for his music offstage too, having dabbled in many production projects – including touring internationally and locally with Masekela, Thandiswa Mazwai and Tshepo Tsola – as well as a music director for a few projects, including the South African presentation of the hit musical, Dream Girls.
Aside from his own projects, he is also preparing to direct some musical concepts at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz to be held in Sandton from September 25 to 27.
Mngoma will also be performing and directing music for a show at Joburg’s Market Theatre called Ketekang which will open in November. The show is being directed by James Ngcobo.
“You’ll always find me in the mix. I don’t think there’ll ever be one thing that I concentrate on. My grandfather used to always say to me: ‘Don’t allow people to box you in, always explore and always express yourself’. So I find that you express yourself in teaching others or on stage, use all those avenues.
“I teach music, I’m a music director, I produce music, I do musical theatre… I’ll always be the mix,” he said.
Having worked with so many renowned South African artists, we asked why Mngoma thinks the likes of Masekela, Dludlu, Mokoena and others excel internationally.
“We’ve got a story to tell. Each artist comes from different background and each has a voice and a story to share with the people. When you’re honest through your music, you can touch people. It’s my wish that South African artists believe more in themselves and take their unique voices to the world.”
This week Mngoma performs in KZN as part of the Concerts SA programme. He will be joined by his band: Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums, Wandile Molefe on keys and Sakhile Nkosi on bass.
If you’re in KZN, catch Mngoma on Friday at KZNSA Gallery, Glenwood (166 Bulwer Rd), Durban. Doors open at 6pm. R60. Bookings: 031 201 9969. On Sunday he’ll be at Blue Ice Lifestyle (Thuthuka) Ehlanzeni. On Monday at Nagle Dam, Cato Ridge. Doors open 2pm, R20., Bookings: 031 7111 524
The Durban gigs are supported by Concerts SA and produced by iSupport Music Business. Concerts SA is a joint South African/ Norwegian initiative that aims to stimulate live music in South Africa by finding and implementing ways to create regular, sustainable performance platforms and develop an interest in and appreciation of live music.
Tomorrow he plays at The Orbit in Braamfontein in Joburg; on September 19 he’ll be performing at Winnies in Wendywood, also in Joburg.