Dudu Pukwana

Mthutuzeli Dudu Pukwana (18 July 1938 30 June 1990) was a South African saxophonist, composer and pianist (although not known for his piano playing).

Dudu Pukwana
Background information
Birth nameMthutuzeli Dudu Pukwana
Born18 July 1938
Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
DiedJune 30, 1990(1990-06-30) (aged 51)
GenresJazz, kwela
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
InstrumentsAlto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, piano
Years active1970s  1990
Labels77 Records, Vertigo, Virgin, Caroline, Affinity, ICP
Associated actsMongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani, Louis Moholo, Chris McGregor

Early years in South Africa

Dudu Pukwana was born in Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He grew up studying piano in his family, but in 1956 he switched to alto sax after meeting tenor sax player Nikele Moyake.[1] In 1962, Pukwana won first prize at the Johannesburg Jazz Festival with Moyake's Jazz Giants (1962 Gallo/Teal). In his early days he also played with Kippie Moeketsi. Chris McGregor then invited him to join the pioneering Blue Notes sextet,[2] where he played along with Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo. Although The Blue Notes are often considered McGregor's group, Pukwana was initially the principal composer and all the group members had pivotal roles.

Emigration to Europe

As mixed-race groups were illegal under apartheid,[3] the Blue Notes, increasingly harassed by authorities, emigrated to Europe in 1964, playing in France and Zurich, and eventually settling in London.[2] After The Blue Notes split in the late 1960s, Pukwana joined McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath big band, which again featured his soloing heavily.[2] As a composer Pukwana wrote "Mra," one of the best-loved tunes by the Brotherhood.

In February 1967, Pukwana received his first mention in America’s Down Beat magazine: "Tenorist Ronnie Scott’s Old Place, having a hard time breaking even, scored a financial success with the Bob Stuckey Trio, featuring the leader’s organ and altoist Dudu Pukwana". The trio later expanded to a quartet when Phil Lee joined on guitar,and this group performed twice on BBC's Jazz Club. As a quartet the band also had a regular session at the Witches Cauldron in Belsize Park. The band completed a series of UK dates throughout 1967, including regular appearances at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club.[4]

Assagai, Spear and Zila

He also went on to form two groups with Feza and Moholo. The first was Assagai, an afro-rock band that recorded for the Vertigo label. The second was Spear, with whom he recorded the seminal afro-jazz album In The Townships in 1973 for Virgin Records at The Manor Studio. Assagai and Spear, which recorded a few albums in the early 1970s, blended kwela rhythms, rocking guitars, and jazz solos.[2]

Pukwana's fiery voice was heard in many diverse settings including recordings of Mike Heron, Centipede and Toots and the Maytals as well as improvising with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink (Yi Yo Le, ICP 1978). With Mongezi Feza, Elton Dean, Keith Tippett, and Louis Moholo, Pukwana recorded two masterful acoustic tracks on the mostly electric album Diamond Express (Freedom 1977). The death of his great friend Mongezi Feza in 1975 also inspired the heart-rending "Blue Notes For Mongezi" (Ogun Records), alongside Blue Notes colleagues Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor and Louis Moholo. He also guested on albums with his former Blue Notes colleague, Johnny Dyani, particularly Witchdoctor's Son (1978, SteepleChase Records), which features some of his best recorded work and played extensively with the drummer John Stevens. Several African leaders invited him into their groups, including Hugh Masekela (Home Is Where the Music Is, 1972) and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa (African Explosion, Who, Ngubani 1969).[2]

Zila and the later years

In 1978, Pukwana founded Jika Records and formed his own band, Zila,[2] featuring South Africans Lucky Ranku on guitar and powerful vocalist Miss Pinise Saul. Zila recorded Zila Sounds (1981), Live in Bracknell and Willisau (1983), partly recorded at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, and Zila (1986), the last with keyboardist Django Bates and Pukwana increasingly using soprano sax. In duo with John Stevens, he recorded the free session They Shoot to Kill (Affinity Records, 1987), dedicated to Johnny Dyani.

On 16 April 1990, Pukwana took part in the Nelson Mandela Tribute held at Wembley Stadium.[5] He died in London of liver failure[1] in June 1990, not long after the death of his longtime friend and colleague McGregor.


  • 1967 Kwela (77 Records – 77 AFRO / 101, 1967)
  • 1969 Dudu Pukwana and Spear (Quality LTJ-S 232, May 1969)
  • 1971 Assagai Assagai (Vertigo 6360 030)
  • 1972 Assagai Zimbabwe (Vertigo)
  • 1973 Simba and Assagai Afro Rock Festival (Contour 2870 311)[6]
  • 1973 In the Townships (Virgin C1504)
  • 1975 Diamond Express (Freedom Records)
  • 1975 Flute Music (Caroline - Earthworks re-release)
  • 1979 Yi Yole (ICP)
  • 1981 Zila Sounds Live At The 100 Club (Jika JIKAZLC1)
  • 1983 Live in Bracknell and Willisau (Jika JIKAZL2)
  • 1986 Zila Zila 86 (Jika JIKAZL3)
  • 1987 Mbizo Radebe (They Shoot to Kill) (with John Stevens) (Affinity)
  • 1990 Cosmics Chapter 90 (Ah Um)
  • 2006 Mbaqanga Songs (Honest Jon's Records HJRLP103) (re-issue of Kwela)


  1. "Mtutuzeli Dudu Pukwana", South African History online.
  2. Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 983. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. "Apartheid - Facts & Summary". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  4. "1967 - Kwela with Gwigwi's band", The Blue Notes.
  5. Peter Elman, "Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa", Tony Hollingworth website.
  6. "Assagai Afro Rock Festival". Inconstantsol.blogspot.com. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.