Jazz star Moses Khumalo found dead

One of South Africa’s foremost young jazz musicians, saxophonist Moses Khumalo (27), was found dead in his house in Honeydew, west of Johannesburg, on Monday evening, West Rand police said.

Police spokesperson Captain Sphiwe Ndlovu told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday that Khumalo’s girlfriend, who last saw the musician on Friday, went to check on him as he was not answering his phone. On her arrival, she found his body hanging in the house.

Police are investigating a case of suicide, Ndlovu said. Khumalo had not left a suicide note.

Marketing and publicity manager Don Khaile, of Khumalo’s record company, Sheer Sound, said Khumalo had been living by himself.

“The untimely death of Moses Khumalo, or ‘Moss’ as he was affectionately known to all of us, came as a huge shock,” Sheer Sound said in a statement on Tuesday.

Born in Meadowlands, Soweto, on January 30 1979, Khumalo completed his matric at Pace Community College and then studied piano at Manu Technical College. In 1995 he took up the saxophone and went on to earn a diploma in music theory, music history and oral (songwriting and ensemble) as well as performance saxophone and piano.

His first public performance was at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in 1995 along with the Soweto Youth Jazz Band.

As a member of late jazz pianist Moses Molelekwa’s band, Khumalo rose through the ranks of the South African jazz scene, performing both locally and abroad.

He shared the stage with stars such as Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo, Themba Mkhize and Paul Hanmer and played in bands alongside many other renowned South African musicians, including Khaya Mahlangu, Vusi Khumalo and Prince Lengoasa.

Before his death, he had been performing as part of Moses Khumalo and Friends at clubs in and around Johannesburg.

Brad Holmes, owner of Newtown music venue Bassline, where Khumalo had often performed, said on Tuesday: “I remember him coming on stage with Moses Molelekwa on the day that Basil Coetzee died. A British journalist from the London Times was at the gig, and he wrote an article saying a new Basil Coetzee had been born.”

Coetzee was another well-known South African saxophonist. He toured and recorded with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and died on March 11 1998.

Of Khumalo’s music, Holmes said that, most importantly for a musician, Khumalo had his own tone. As a composer, musician and songwriter, Khumalo was regarded as one of South Africa’s finest developing artists, Sheer Sound said.

“His prominence in jazz circles came at an early age and he always had a spark of energy and drive. He defied the myth that this beautiful art form was only meant for the consumption of the very old-timers. His enthusiasm was contagious and his drive had allowed him to come through many tough times,” the record company said.

His debut recording, Mntungwa, was released in 2002. Allaboutjazz.com described it as “noteworthy jazz under the leadership of a mercurially talented fellow”.

Mntungwa won Khumalo a South African Music Award for best newcomer.

His second and most recent release was Ibuyile (2005), “a fantastically spiced and flavourful Afro-jazz album with pop elements”, Sheer Sound said.

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