Johnny Mekoa. Picture: Facebook

Johannesburg - World renowned trumpeter and music educator Dr. Ramakgobotla Johny Mekoa was one of South Africa's most talented and selfless sons, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Tuesday.

Mekoa died on Monday,  at the age of 72.

“We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of the trumpet player and head of the Gauteng Music Academy, Johnny Mekoa. The nation has lost one of its most talented and selfless musical sons,” said Mthethwa.

“Over the years, Johnny Mekoa 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 certainly had the vision for looking ahead and addressing the needs of new times.” 

Mekoa was born in Benoni in 1945 and he 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 who refused to give him a passport, the department said. 

At the age of 41, Mekoa commenced with 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 Degree in Music at the University of Indiana in the United States. In 2015, Mekoa received the Order of Ikhamanga in silver for his contributions. He received numerous other awards over the years and two honorary doctorates.

The department said that Mekoa's contribution to arts education was through the establishment of the Music Academy of Gauteng in 1994. 

“He has been a life-affirming force in musical education. He was not only content to play an instrument and to bask in the light of his own creativity and glory, but also, and moreso, in the spirit of Ubuntu, he needed to share that light with others. He lived his life to the full, with conviction and true to the dictum: ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend!’” said Mthethwa. 

“We shall remember Johnny Mekoa for his life’s work and his love for people, for encouraging youth and sustaining our music. Our condolences go to his family, his friends, his fellow musicians and teachers and to his students.” 

Chairperson of the Living Legends Legacy Programme, Welcome Msomi paid tribute to Mekoa saying: “Johnny Mekoa 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 -- and against all the odds -- he made it happen. So many of our people are going to miss him dearly.”

“His amiable spirit translated into his enthusiastic disposition at the living legends project by bringing together many others in transferring their skills to next generation of jazz musicians. He successfully organised and hosted 3 living legends masterclasses during the course of 2016 and 2017 at his music academy where saxophonists; Stompie Manana, Barney Rachabane and one of the last living Manhattan Brothers vocalists, Sanza Loate, participated.”

Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Faith Mazibuko on Tuesday, paid her last respect to Mekoa and said he was a great human being and teacher.

“It is with heartfelt sorrow and pain that I learned of the passing of one of our most respected and prominent jazz and music brain 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 and went on to get a Master’s," she said.

“We in Gauteng and aspiring jazz musicians throughout the country and elsewhere have lost dearly however know that his legacy will live forever... We’ve lost a great teacher, artist, musician and a leader in the music industry. He will be greatly missed. May his soul rest in peace and his legacy continue 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 with many accolades including the Life Achievement Award by the Swedish Jazz Federation, and the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mekoa played a very 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.