Minister Nathi Mthethwa pays tribute to Johnny Mekoa

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04 Jul 2017

 “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 Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Ramakgobotla John Mekoa was born in Benoni in 1945 and he wanted to pursue a musical education and career, but circumstances at the time in apartheid South Africa did not allow him to do so. However together with other musicians he continued to play in bands and groups and inspire new generations and new sounds. Many times he was prevented from travelling abroad by the apartheid government who refused to give him a passport. But his consolation was, as he has said, that: “The bands we played in kept the hopes and dreams of the masses alive.”

After 20 years of working as an optical dispenser, Mekoa finally at the age of 41 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.

His important contribution to arts education was through the establishment of the Music Academy of Gauteng in 1994. This initiative has grown over the years and has nurtured many new talents and been the breeding ground for youth who went on to become acclaimed jazz musicians. The Academy received an International Jazz Education Network Award for five years in a row.  The Department of Arts and Culture recently funded the building of student accommodation residences at the Gauteng Music Academy through the community art centres’ capital works budget.

 “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 Minister 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 perserverance. His own contribution to South African music has been immense. From optical dispenser to heading a music academy, he certainly had the the vision for looking ahead and addressing the needs of new times,” said Minister Mthethwa.

In an interview for the book Unsung Jazz Musicians Under Apartheid, Mekoa explained that: “You know, one had to go back to school. We knew that Mandela was going to be released. I knew it; so I said to myself: go back to school Johnny, get yourself ready, so that when we take over we can be qualified. We have to take our destiny into our own hands. You had to prepare yourself educationally, spiritually and otherwise. To position yourself in such a way to shape the direction of young musical talent in our country.”

“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,” concluded Minister Mthethwa.

Chairperson of the Living Legends Legacy Programme, Mr Welcome Msomi said that: “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,” said Chairperson Welcome Msomi.

For more information, contact: Lisa Combrinck at 082 821 4886 or Lokile Molefe at 076 920 3934.