Philip Tabane turned down Miles Davis

Philip Tabane performing at the Linden Auditorium in 2006. / Muntu Vilakazi
Philip Tabane performing at the Linden Auditorium in 2006. / Muntu Vilakazi

Legendary musician Philip Nchipi Tabane, who died on Friday morning at the age of 84, once turned down an opportunity to work with jazz giant Miles Davis.

The incident happened when Davis, who won nine Grammy awards, was at the peak of his music career, said family spokesman Sello Galane, who did a thesis on malombo music, which Tabane was famous for.

Galane said Tabane - who was known as Dr Malombo - turned down the offer because he did not want his malombo sound to be diluted with other sounds. He felt it would disrespect his mother, who came up with the name malombo (which means "spirits" in Venda) music.

Galane told Sowetan the legend, who had been sickly, lacked an appetite and refused to eat. He said he was admitted to a Pretoria hospital and died at around 9.30am on Friday.

He defined Tabane as a great conceptualist who loved his own sound and never compromised. He came across as arrogant to many, but he refused to be influenced.

"He was an organic intellectual, and a thinker. When people referred to his music as malombo jazz, he called them to order, saying they were disrespectful to his mother. He was unique in how he did things and his approach to music.

"Whenever he had a performance, Tabane only knew what to perform when he arrived at the venue. The song choices were motivated by the audience he was playing for, and the atmosphere. People who played with him understood his style of play," according to Galane.

Alice Mkhabela, a family friend who also worked with Tabane, said he wanted to be treated like a superstar.

"When you went to his house, you would find him with ordinary township people. He would cook for them and play music," Mkhabela said.

"I met him when I joined Task Music, that is now known as Gallo Records. Just before his health deteriorated, he told me he wanted to play with an international orchestra." Tabane travelled extensively and his musical achievements were celebrated globally, with a stint in the US in the 1970s.

He was a prolific guitarist, philosopher and malombo drum player. He released an album titled Muvhango in 1998. He also released a double album titled Modumo Kgole (Sounds from Afar) in 2016 through recording company MSS.

His memorial service will take place at Mamelodi Hall in Pretoria on Thursday.

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