Speech by Minister Lulu Xingwana at the funeral of the Great Jazz Artist, Ezra Ngcukana, Cape Town
Members of the Ngcukana Family,
Comrades and Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of the Ministry and Department of Arts and Culture, we are here to pay our last respects to Ezra Ngcukana, one of South Africa’s finest musicians and a creative son of our soil.
Our dear brother was immensely talented and highly skilled and much respected and well loved by all.
As the child in a very musical family it seemed as if he grew up with music coursing through his very veins. Together with his brothers, he learnt from his father. They mastered the trumpet, the saxophone, the flugelhorn and piano and with each instrument they created their own distinctive sound that resounded through the streets of Langa and the Western Cape.
Ezra grew up in this milieu, taking in the creative sounds, which honed him into a highly sensitive musician.
This talented family grew the music sector under very difficult circumstances, which points out to the indomitable human spirit that they possessed. Their immense contribution to the music sector has to be well acknowledged.
In a country where the creativity of black people was not appreciated and where the very system tried to stunt and destroy African excellence and innovation, the Ngcukana family embraced music as a way of projecting their true selves.
They were not content with being good, they wanted to be the best they could be and in this way transcend the limitations that apartheid sought to impose upon them. They shared their knowledge and love of music with others, in this way inspiring a new breed of musicians, nurturing new audiences and identities and contributing to an evolving musical culture.
Ezra made great strides in trying to break the barriers imposed by apartheid by embracing all kinds of sounds and rhythms. He performed a range of musical genre, from jazz to Mbaqanga, from rock to pop music. He played the trumpet, he played the saxophone, which became his favoured instrument, and he was also a composer of note.
But for all those who listened to his sounds, it was his love for jazz that stood out and seemed closest to his heart. Perhaps it reminded him of the jazz sessions of his childhood or may be it was the worldliness of jazz that appealed to him, that allowed him to speak not only to South Africa but also to speak what had become a universal language in the world.
Yet for many years he could not live from his art. It was only through the will to endure and the vision to succeed that he obtained his degrees and also continued to play his music.
His education helped him to have a career apart from music through which he could earn his daily bread. His education also helped him to mentor others to and to pass his knowledge on to new generations.
Unlike others who would have chosen to abandon their passion or alternatively to focus only on their day jobs, he continued to take both paths and I think that we are the richer as a result of the varied experiences that he had in his life.
For decades he not only entertained us but also educated us with his music. For him music was also an act of consciousness and he was part of a community of artists who chose to play together across the colour line and across all the divisions of geography, culture and creed that colonialism, segregation and apartheid had imposed upon the South African reality. They built bridges through music; they fused cultures and married sounds.
Together with other great musicians, his brother Duke, the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi and others, he composed musical pieces that continue to resound in our ears and move us to happiness or tears even today.
It is unbearably sad that we have lost so many great musicians in a matter of months. Winston Mankunku and recently Robbie Jansen and now Ezra have all left us and we are so much poorer at their passing.
But we know that they did their best for us, that they gave everything they could in the time they were given to do so.
We celebrate Ezra’s achievements. It was an honour to have been in the presence of greatness. We are glad that we knew him, that he overcame so many obstacles and that he lived to play and enjoy the fruit of a free country.
We pledge that we will continue to build on the foundations that he helped to lay and that we shall continue to improve the conditions of our people and our artists and to bring about the flourishing of our art and culture.
Our sincerest condolences go to his wife, Vuyiswa Dyalvana, his mother, Nontsokolo, who both contributed deeply to his greatness, and to his children, sisters and brothers, the family and the arts fraternity.
Ezra’s musical legacy will live on through the music he generously bequeathed us and through the fond and heartfelt memories that we have of him and his music.
We salute one of South Africa’s greatest Jazz Artists.
Hamba kahle Bra Ezra!