27/04/2012 Presidenrt Zuma Awards Mr Julian Bahula the order of Ikhamanga.
Picture: Phill Magakoe
27/04/2012 Presidenrt Zuma Awards Mr Julian Bahula the order of Ikhamanga. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Jazz legend no longer an unsung hero

By Time of article published May 4, 2012

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INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed musician Julian Bahula was honoured for his outstanding achievements in jazz and being an ambassador of South African music.

Bahula, the founder of the Malombo Jazz Men from Mamelodi, was honoured by President Jacob Zuma on Freedom Day.

The 74-year-old musician, who went to the UK in 1973, was conferred with the Order of Ikhamanga (Gold).

“I have been one of the many unrecognised and unsung heroes, now I am so delighted to have a song and I thank President Zuma for giving me this song,” he said.

“At last, I was standing in front someone very important to all South Africans, our president, Jacob Zuma.

“Having the president of my country place the Order of Ikhamanga Gold around my neck, as a symbol of recognition, means I can now sing about the work I did for the struggle for our freedom,” said Bahula.

He said he had been waiting for the day, “and I will cherish it for the rest of the years God gives, to have been recognised and honoured for that very hard work we did with so many others”.

“Now the ANC has reached an historic moment, the timing is perfect and even more special, to be honoured during the centenary year of the founding of the ANC,” he said.

Bahula said he went to the UK in 1973 and became part of the ANC in exile under the leadership of the late Oliver Tambo.

“At the time, the chief representative of the ANC in the UK was comrade uncle Reggie September and he introduced me to the anti-apartheid movement, then under the leadership of auntie Ethel Dekeyser.

“Because of these comrades, I was encouraged to form my own band, Jabula, and through the ANC I started working with all the anti-apartheid movements, as a cultural worker, in many countries around the world,” he said.

Bahula was responsible for helping to organise former president Nelson Mandela’s 65th birthday concert in 1983 at Alexandra Palace in London while Mandela was still in jail.

“For me, this is a special moment in my life.

“This event, among many efforts, led to the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners and culminated in the Free Mandela Concert which was held at the Wembley Stadium in 1988,” he said.

Bahula is a composer, musician and promoter and was famous throughout the 1960s and early 1970s for performing Malombo music, an indigenous kind of jazz which was considered extremely close in spirit to the sounds of the ancestors.

Malombo Jazzmen, whose first big public performance was at the Castle Lager Jazz Festival at Orlando Stadium in 1964, had legendary guitarist Phillip Tabane as one of their frontmen.

They also had flautist and harmonica player Abbey Cindi, while Bahula was on traditional African drums.

The drums later became known as the Malombo drums for the distinctive sound he derived from them.

He went to Europe at a time when apartheid was affecting both his life and his music-making. In London he joined the ANC and worked with musicians to form his first band there, Jabula.

He toured Europe, working with anti-apartheid movements, raising much-needed funds and advancing the awareness of the struggle.

“Bahula has been as tireless a promoter of the music of his homeland in his adopted country as he is an onstage rhythm activator,” said the advisory council of the national orders.

Throughout his career he has worked with many artists from around the world, including the likes of Manu Dibango, Youssou N’Dour, Hugh Masekela and the late Busi Mhlongo.

Bahula came back to South Africa when exiles returned after the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements.

He has been living in Pretoria ever since.

However, his life took a turn for the worse when he was involved in horrific car accident in Mamelodi.

His recovery from that incident took many years.

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