In New York City, the Golden City cannot be complete
without a page on Jonas Gwagwa and his music,
that pierced through his dungeon like apartment on 7th Ave
in Manhattan not too far from Columbia University.
Here Jonas Gwagwa like the pied piper of hermelin
lived with his trombone that was played muted
not to disturb the skirmishes of life in the neighborhood.
Jonas Gwagwa ‘s place was a bee hive to South African exiles
they came from many corners and crevices of the USA.
Jonas’s place was indeed like a refuge for all South Africans
who were overwhelmed by the skirmishes of NYC.
Whenever you paid Jonas a visit you would
find a mosaic collectivity of South Africans
young at heart and defiant of apartheid rule of law,
they came under many pretext, some to be consoled
for their loved ones who just passed away back home,
some came out of severe boredom of NYC,
others to satisfy the spell of hunger with pap and vleis
and morogo a special palatable dish
that only Gwagwa was capable of preparing.
While Jonas an ectomorphic character, whose left eye
remained slightly close only to open mysteriously like
the sun flower when intellectual discourse on apartheid,
in his place often took a shape and form
of bringing a solution to problems of apartheid
that were multitudinous as the autumn leaves
and only the mind could translate into a deferred dream of liberation.
Jonas Gwagwa a person who made music
the main orchestration of his life,
always played a role as a participant observer
in many debates that took place at his place
especially when people like myself had one too many
He was expertly qualified to facilitate
in any conversation that ranged from music, arts and politics.
It was easy for him to do so because
when you listen to the lyrics of his music,
you will find a wide range of his musical rendition
ranging from coming home with the evening breeze
to how lovers dream in the midnight rain
and even rise up with the morning star
When I graduated from the University of Rochester
I decided to move to Atlanta Georgia,
little did I know that Jonas Gwagwa was also
gradually packing his little belonging in New York City
to come and live in Atlanta Georgia,
the home of the civil rights movement.
Here we’re Martin Luther King based vicariously his
famous “I Have A dream” speech that said:
It is obvious today that America has defaulted
on the promissory note, insofar as
her citizens of color are concerned.
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation,
America has given the Negro people a bad check,
a check which has come back marked ” Bad check”
But we refused to believe that the bank
of justice is bankrupt. Jonas Gwagwa and I probably hoped
that by being in Atlanta the home of the civil rights
the USA might consider paying us also
about their sins they committed in supporting the evil system of apartheid.
When Jonas Gwagwa finally left New York for Atlanta,
he made sure to bring his talking drum, the tam- tam
and the rumba, the thumb piano and the xylophone,
and last but not least his trombone that shielded him,
when the crowds in Soweto felt their music appetite,
was not fully quenched so the show must go on for
the love of life from sunrise to sunset.
Music in Jonas Gwagwa runs in his veins and arteries
and it keeps his spirits in rhythmic beauty.
When the spirit moves try and expose yourself
to his classical albums entitled:
Flowers of the nation and Cry freedom.
Barely two weeks after Jonas arrival in Atlanta
the late Rev. Gladstone Nhlabati took us for
a libation at a place popularly known as the
Bird Cage. This place was the most famous
for hosting such great artist as Cannonball Aderly,
Jazz Messengers to mention a few. It is in these jam sessions that
Jonas trombone began to explode to many jazz lovers.
Tammy Mattison fell in love with Jonas’ unique sound
and consequently Jonas formed a group of young musicians
better known as the African Explosion that began to make waves in Atlanta.
The sound that African Explosion infused in their repertoire
was a combination of USA soul music and little bit
of Caribbean flavor and a whole pot of Soweto rhythm.
The first big appearance of the African Explosion
was at Gainsville Florida. The first performance took place
at Gainsville Florida University campus. Students had fun jiving
and dancing to Jonas music. The following day the band
went and gave a performance in some club in the middle
of nowhere in Gainsville. The place was packed to the
brim, their music made me feel nostalgic. It was as if
I am back home in Soweto drinking home brewed beer,
in a sheeben like Falling Leaves were I used to get roaring drunk.
After such a night of ecstasy
I was told there is no place for me to sleep,
so I had to spend a night in a dungeon
that had no toilet facility in America the beautiful.
Jonas brief stay in Atlanta added a lot of value
in promoting the plight of the liberation struggle
of South Africans at that crucial time in the USA.
I hope and pray that one rainy day New York City
and Atlanta will one day consider people
Like Jonas Gwagwa’s contribution in music,
the late Rev Gladstone Nhlabati a clergyman
who contributed a lot in liberation theology
that highlighted South African injustice in Atlanta,
even before Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu could do so
and Kaizer Motaung a soccer legend who introduced
the game of soccer to many in the early days of the game in Atlanta.
When all is said and done about the enormous contribution
South African musicians have made to dramatize
the plight of our people especially in the USA
around the sixties was quite remarkable.
Jonas Gwagwa will certainly loom as a shining star,
even though he may continue to sing the weary blues
once sang by Ray Charles, when he said musicians create
and industry mass produce their music for other intensive purposes.
In other words Jonas has the right to say as the old saying goes,
“I have sawn besides all waters in my day.
I planted deep, within my heart the fear
that wind or fowl would take the grain away.”