Gwigwi Mrwebi, Ghetto Musicians, and the Jazz Imperative: the Social and Musical Dynamics of South African Jazz in 1960s London

Monday, 15 October, 2012 - 15:00

Presented by : 

African jazz, also known as mbaqanga and less frequently as Majuba jazz, occupies an important but ambivalent position in the story of South African music. Musicians, aficionados and scholars alike commonly perceive the style as a culmination of black South African jazz musicians’ reckoning with African American jazz in the 1940s. Moreover, jazz musicians’ assertion of a specifically black South African musical position was accompanied by an increasingly assertive political position in black South Africa’s public sphere at the time. Mbaqanga, in other words, did ideological work, because it articulated resistance against prevailing conditions under white rule. By the 1950s, however, mbaqanga was also expressive of a popular culture that positioned black South Africans in an urban milieu embracive of that era’s ambiguities regarding changed racial, gender and sexual mores, and as importantly, changed consumer mores. African jazz became a participant object in this change. Its dual significance led to an analytical tension that music scholars could only resolve ‘elsewhere’. This (working draft) chapter explores how the challenge posed by mbaqanga could only be met by musical, geographical and musicological displacement. It does this by focussing, firstly, on the career of one musician, Gwigwi Mrwebi, in South Africa and in London. It then outlines the complex world of London’s jazz scenes in the 1960s and their reception of mbaqanga. Finally, it considers how what I have termed ‘the jazz imperative’ – a constellation of musical desires, ethical postures and individual (musical) belonging orientated towards African America – affected the careers of both Mrwebi and mbaqanga in London. Such an investigation not only illuminates the life of a relatively neglected musician, it also interrupts those histories that attribute South African jazz’s importance in the formation of British jazz to avant-garde expression.


PDF icon Dalamba2012.pdf

File Music Example 1 - Hamba Gwi.wma

Audio icon Music Example 2 - Benny G Mrwebi & the Harlem Swingsters with Taai Shomang - U-Mbibe.MP3

File Music Example 3 - Fika Swanee.wma

General seminar arrangements

  • The WISH seminar is hosted on-line every Monday afternoon at 16:00 - 17:00 SA during the teaching semester.
  • For the details of the Zoom meetings, please sign up for email notices at
  • Participants must read the paper prior to the seminar, which is typically available by the Friday preceding the seminar.
  • The WISH seminar archive is available here
  • A printable version of the seminar schedule for the current year is available here.