/ 10 September 2008

World-famous SA jazz musician Bheki Mseleku dies

Renowned jazz musician Bheki Mseleku has died at the age of 53 after a long battle with diabetes, Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan said on Wednesday.

”He was a supremely talented creative visionary,” said Jordan in a statement.

He said the department had learnt that ”piano maestro” Mseleku, who was born in KwaZulu-Natal, died in the United Kingdom on Monday.

”We offer our condolences to his wife, Nomvula Ndlazilwane, the Mseleku family, relatives, friends and the jazz fraternity. May the ancestral spirits grant them spiritual strength to see them through this difficult period.”

Jordan said Mseleku had been living in the UK and sadly seemed to have disappeared from the glitter and glamour of the live music scene in South Africa.

He said Mseleku had chosen to spend much of his time in Europe, especially London, in pursuit of lucrative deals and opportunities for live performances, but that most importantly, it was to assert his right to live in a country of his choice.

Born in Lamontville, KwaZulu-Natal, Mseleku was from an artistically inclined family who took charge of his life and fate when he taught himself to play various instruments.

In 1975, he moved to Johannesburg where he joined Spirits Rejoice.

”Immediately, he established himself as a remarkable electronic organ player who was destined to be one of the finest musicians in the world,” said Jordan.

Although Mseleku was a versatile instrumentalist, he was greatly attracted to jazz as it was a genre that seemed to ignite his soul because it allowed him self-expression to not only shape his individual identity, but to articulate the plight of his fellow African people.

”Shortly after the explosions of the 1976 student upheavals, he left the land of his birth in defiance of the oppressive apartheid system to seek global acknowledgement and recognition for his supreme talent,” said Jordan.

”Although it was to take him a decade before he made his debut at the much-vaunted Ronnie Scott’s in London, he immediately exploded into the jazz mainstream.”

In 1987 Mseleku reached a turning point in his struggle for recognition, which coincided with the ”winds of change” blowing through South Africa.

Jordan said Mseleku’s much-awaited debut album, Celebration, had undertones of the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the liberation movement.

At the height of his career, Mseleku stepped forward to lead top jazz musicians such as Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Eddie Parker, Jean Toussaint, Michael Bowie and Marvin ”Smitty” Smith to celebrate the dawn of freedom.

”The album exploded on the world consciousness. In fact, Mseleku was crowned an international jazz piano icon owing to his outstanding resilience, creativity and originality.”

Mseleku’s name still stands high in the world record of few who have made a qualitative difference and contribution to jazz music, said Jordan.

”Perhaps more than any other musician of his generation, Mseleku was able to put African genius that had defied man-made structural constraints on the international map when it was easy to blame apartheid,” said Jordan.

After recording a number of other albums including Meditations — which captured his search for the spiritual purpose of life — Timelessness and Beauty of Sunrise, Mseleku returned to South Africa to much acclaim.

On numerous subsequent visits he multiplied his talent by not only sharing the stage with the new generation of jazz talent, but teaching young stars of the future.

Jordan said that a whole legion of jazz artists had been inspired by Mseleku.

”Significantly, South African jazz talent is in the international limelight today and the country has become a platform not only to launch new talent, but provide an international platform for cultural exchange and promote internationalism,” he said. — Sapa