Jonas Gwangwa – the South African anti-apartheid activist, composer, and jazz trombonist – has died, according to NPR. The news was confirmed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. “A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and our democratic creative economy has been called to rest,” Ramaphosa wrote in a statement. “The trumpet, which boomed with audacity and bravery and warmed our hearts equally with a gentle melody, has lost its vitality.” Gwangwa was 83 years old.
Gwangwa grew up in the Soweto community in Johannesburg and was a member of the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi. When the South African apartheid regime censored jazz performances and imprisoned black people for congregation in 1960, Gwangwa decided to live in exile outside the country.
Gwangwa performed internationally in the following years and continued to use his music in the service of activism. He was the musical director of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble – a group of activists from the African National Congress. His 1987 music for Cry Freedom, a film about anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline, earned Gwangwa two Oscar nominations. In 1985, he reportedly survived an apartheid security forces bomb attack on his home.
In 2010 Gwangwa was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga – South Africa’s highest distinction. His death coincides with the three-year anniversary of the death of his friend and colleague Hugh Masekela.