Sheer Publishing News

A Dark Day for South African Jazz

May 10, 2011

Zim NgqawanaSheer Publishing is very sad to report that the rumours regarding the passing of an amazing visionary, educator, innovator, man and musical talent are indeed true: Zimasile “Zim/Zimology” Nqgawana (51) passed on this morning [10 May 2011] around 10am, after having suffered a major stroke on Saturday during his band rehearsals for an upcoming show…

He is survived by a wife and 5 children.  Our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to them; and all else who feel this loss as deeply as we do – Indeed a massive and gaping hole is now left in the South African musicscape. Rest in peace bra Zim – we will all miss you and your intoxicating sounds – those, like your soul, will live forever!

Biographical details and discographies are below for further background information as to Zim’s many impressive achievements in his relatively short lifespan.

According to Muslim custom, Zim’s body will be laid to rest today. Details regarding the funeral arrangements are a little sketchy. As far as we are able to advise through communication with the family at this juncture there will be a gathering at Zim Ngqawana’s home in Troyville, whereafter a procession will head to West Park Cemetary in Montgomery Park to lay his body to rest at 8pm.

The funeral is open to the public, and a memorial service will follow the burial in a short while – details TBA.


Zim Ngqawana has been hailed by South Africa’s daily paper, The Star, as “The most visible, hardest working man in jazz”. He is one of the new generations of South African musicians who are taking a fresh look at South Africa’s jazz and traditional music heritage. As Downbeat magazine in the USA (ironically considering the present circumstances) put it, “the future of South African Jazz is in good hands…”

Zim’s style is rather difficult to define to a single label or genre. With an avant-garde approach to his music he pools his vast knowledge of traditional African music with his equivalently awesome knowledge of jazz to interpret and adapt these classics into new and inspiring interpretations. His music furthermore contains elements of bop, funk, Indian and Western classical music, samba, tango, vocal chants – highly percussive and often danceable.

A multi-instrumentalist Zim is proficient on horns of all kinds (alto, tenor and baritone sax), flute, piccolo, harmonica, bells and whistles as well as melodica and piano. Add to this his gut-wrenching vocal timbre spicing some of his tracks with sparse chants and choruses and you have an amazing combination of diverse elements to drive fans wild both live and on recorded material.

Amazingly well respected in South Africa (and abroad in areas), Ngqawana has managed to scoop a total of 5 SAMAs (South African Music Awards), a clear indication of his quality, integrity, professionalism and drive. Amongst these are awards for “Best Male Artist”; “Best Traditional Jazz Album”; “Best Jazz Album” as well as “Best Album Engineering”. He held the record in South Africa for the most SAMA nominations in any given year at that stage, with 5 in 2002 – true recognition of an amazing visionary.

Zim has toured the world extensively with his faithful quartet (drums, piano and upright bass); the list of counties he hasn’t visited would be shorter than those he has! In addition he has been a lecturer of musicology both at Natal University in South Africa as well as the University of Tennessee. (His formal and informal studies of music are outlined below and equally as impressive).

Zim’s musical expertise and pedigree extends further than jazz alone; he has orchestrated and produced classical music shows, fusions of hip-hop and jazz, massive big band jazz and traditional orchestras as well as his standard (and greatly acclaimed) performances as a quartet. More elaborate details of this interesting character, his albums and history unfold below:

The History (and Discography):

Zim Ngqawana first made his mark at the historic inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in 1994, where he directed the 100 person ‘Drums for Peace Orchestra’, led an elite group of 12 Presidential drummers and featured as a solo saxophonist.

This recognition came after a late start and some tough struggles. Born in 1959 in Port Elizabeth (in South Africa’s Eastern Cape), Zim was the youngest of five children and started playing flute at the age of 21. Although Zim was forced to drop out of school before completing university entrance requirements, his prowess won him a place at Rhodes University. He later went on to study for a diploma in Jazz Studies at the University of Natal. Working with the University’s ensemble, ‘The Jazzanians’, he attended the International Association of Jazz Educators convention
in the United States and was offered scholarships to the Max Roach / Wynton Marsalis jazz workshop and subsequently a Max Roach scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, where he studied with jazz legends Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef.

Since his return to South Africa in the 1990’s he has worked in the bands of veteran greats like Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela. He has also devoted much time and effort into building up a number of small and large combos from the conventional quartet / quintet including his 8 piece band ‘Ingoma’ through to the ‘Drums for Peace Orchestra’. Zim is committed to developing and creating an audience for new South African jazz. His music draws on influences ranging from South Africa’s folk and rural traditions to Indian and western classical music, world music and the avant-garde. Grounded in his South African roots, the music is strongly percussive, improvisational and highly danceable.

Alongside numerous major festival appearances in South Africa, in 1993 he appeared as the guest artist with Paul Van Kemenade and his ensemble, at the Tilburg Festival in front of a large and enthusiastic Dutch audience. In 1995 he toured the United States with his band ‘Ingoma’ and appeared at the historic Black History Week in Chicago. Zim has toured America, Africa, Israel and Europe and has played with greats including Max Roach, Keith Tippett, Dennis Mpale, Andile Yenana, Herbie Tsoaeli, Kevin Gibson, Valerie Naranjo, Bjorn Ole Solburg and his Norweigan San Ensemble to name a few.

“San Song” was released by Sheer Sound in South Africa 1997, to critical acclaim. Licensed from NOR-CD and recorded in Norway, the album comprises original compositions by Zim Ngqawana and Bjorn Ole Solberg. The music is deeply rooted in the folk based jazz traditions of Norway and South Africa. ‘San Song’ features South Africans Zim Ngqawana, Andile Yenana and Norwegians Bjorn Ole Solberg, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love.

“Zimology”, the first solo release by Zim, illustrates his uncanny ability as a musician, composer and fine saxophonist. Recorded in Norway along with two of the original members of San and Zim’s long time pianist Andile Yenana, ‘Zimology’ once again established him as the undoubted king of South African avant-garde jazz music, a genre that he has embraced whole heartedly, unlike numerous of his contemporaries. The album is dedicated to a number of his influences including Yusef Latef, Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders whom he studied and played with while on a Wynston Marsalis scholarship at the Max Roach Institute of Jazz in Massachusetts. He also pays tribute to local jazz legend Mongezi Feza (Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath) with the track “You Think You Know Me”.
“Zimology” incorporates many influences from traditional Xhosa rhythms and songs to the more ‘way out’ form of jazz expressionism.

Zim released his second solo project “The Zimphonic Suites” in 2001. Few knew that this recording would produce such a definitive artist album. Following in the footsteps of “Zimology” the reedman manages to fuse the ancient rhythms and songs of Africa with his interpretations of modern jazz music.
The album moves beyond jazz and deals with expression only, as it is supposed to serve a broader purpose by suggesting jazz, classical and other western forms before departing from them.

“Zimphonic Suites” was nominated for an impressive 5 South African Music Awards, the most nominations received by any artist at that stage, for this major awards ceremony. He managed to scoop three awards out of the five nominations including the very prestigious “Best Male Artist”.

Zim Ngqawana’s “Vadzimu” caused a stir with lovers of good music worldwide. In the words of  – “Vadzimu is a masterpiece!”

In his inimitable style, Zim produced an album that remins fans of his legendary prowess as a musician and a producer, and will be sure to draw legions of new followers. Featured guests include Andile Yenana (piano), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet & flugelhorn), Lulu Gontsana and Kesivan Naidoo (drums).

“Vadzimu” is a concept album divided into various sections. The first section of the album “Satire” is a tribute to our own South African heritage and it is expressed in track 3 ‘Gumboot Dance, which conjures up images of our mineworkers.
Zim has reworked Abdullah Ibrahim’s song Tafelberg, and has renamed it Tafelberg / Carnival Samba. He also re-arranged the South African national anthem Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika. The last section “Nocturnes” is a collection of piano pieces played by Zim himself.

“Vadzimu” managed to secure Zim two further SAMA awards and an amazing amount of critical acclaim, scooping the very prestigious “Best Male Artist” as well as “Best Jazz Album” categories that year, no small feat in a country where jazz is a popular and hotly contested music form!

Subsequent to “Vadzimu”, Sheer Sound Record Company has released two further albums for Zim Ngqawana – the double live CD set titled “Zimology – Live in the U.S.A”, as well as recently a “Best of Zim Ngqawana” release that pools some, but by no means all, of his greatest tracks.

Zim Ngqawana has, under his own label “Zimology”, independantly released a few live products independently of Sheer Sound – “Live at Bird’s Eye” (recorded in Basel, Switzerland); as well as more recently “Anthology of Zimology” (live recordings from Heidelberg Germany from 2008).

There is various live filmed footage of Zim Ngqawana available, and a posthumous DVD tribute to this legend is imminent…

A legend is gone! Long may the music live on and touch our hearts, souls and minds.

Southern African Music Rights Organisation

27 (0)11 438 7000

Head Quarters:
5th Floor, 165 West Street
2 Sandown Valley Crescent
Sandton 2196, South Africa

Postal Address:
P.O. Box 3128
Parklands 2121
South Africa

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