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No slowing down for legendary flautist Abbey Cindi

Malombo founder continues to perform at 85, mentoring youngsters

Jazz exponent and flute player Abbey Cindi.
Jazz exponent and flute player Abbey Cindi.
Image: Supplied

Jazz exponent and flute player Abbey Cindi turns 85 next month and is not allowing age to slow him down.

Cindi still blows a storm with  his flute, composing music and performing live. His recent performance was last week Saturday at Keorapetse William Kgositsile Theatre at University of Johannesburg. The performance was made possible by collaboration between UJ Arts & Culture, the Wits School of Arts’ cultural policy and management department and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts.

The music legend from  Mamelodi, Tshwane, is not planning on retiring, 58 years since grabbing the attention of the nation with Malombo Jazzmen at Orlando Stadium.

“The performance went well and Wits and UJ students loved it. What pleased me was seeing young people loving and appreciating jazz. The young people I perform with are mentored by me. I always speak to them about the importance of learning and upgrading themselves.

About his passion, he says: “Music is my life and I think I am possessed by it. I don't see myself doing anything else but music. I will sing until the last day of my life. In fact, I would like to die performing because I will be doing what I love the most. I still wake up in the middle of the night to write songs because this is who I am.”

The music legend from  Mamelodi, Tshwane, is not planning on retiring, 58 years since grabbing the attention of the nation with Malombo Jazzmen at a packed Orlando Stadium. The year was 1964 and the event was Castle Lager Jazz Festival and the trio took home the trophy for the best performance. With him in the man band were his homeboys Phillip Tabane on guitar and Julian Bahula on African drums covered with animal skins.

After all these years, Cindi is still passionate about his craft. His secret of longevity, according to him, is that music chose him from as early as the age of 13. He was  influenced by groups such as SA Manhattan Brothers. He was also inspired by American jazz groups Harlem Brothers and Ink Spots, which were in the 1940s and 1950s.

Cindi however reveals that his talent comes from both his parents. His father played the concertina while his mother was a vocalist.

“We were young boys and we loved Manhattan Brothers. We loved their music and their style. Whenever the group was performing at KwaGuqa Hall in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, we'd go to the hall. They will make us clean the hall and later tell us to go home because we were too young to watch the show.”

“But we never left because we had discovered that the stage has a hole which allowed us to hide ourselves between the wooden floor and the ground. We used to hide underneath the stage and the band will be performing on top of us. That is how we listened to the music.”

The music legend said when he started in the music industry they were not paid a lot of money but they loved what they did. As artists of that time, they sang at weddings, parties and school events for fun. It was during that time that he met the now late Tabane and together with Bahula they founded Malombo Jazzmen.

When the group took off, internal squabbles forced Cindi out and formed Malombo Jazz Makers with guitarist Lucky Ranku.

“I started as a vocalist. After sometime I decided to learn how to play flute and went to Dorkay House (a music academy) in Joburg where I was taught by Bra Gideon Nxumalo. When we became famous it caused a breakdown, I had to leave because Phillip did not understand a lot about the industry.

He would disappear when we have interviews and big performances because he hated the spotlight. I left and founded a new group with Lucky Ranku. Julian later left Phillip to join us.”

When all three members of Jazz Makers wanted to leave SA to explore greener pastures internationally, Cindi could not because his passport was withheld by the special branch of the SA police during apartheid.

Bahule managed to leave in 1973 and later invited Ranku to join him abroad. Cindi, who was also deeply involved in politics by being part of Black Consciousness Movement, was harassed by the police and had to leave Gauteng to live in Durban where he met his lovely wife Gabisile, who was studying at the University of Zululand at the time.

The couple has two children and two granddaughters who are also musically inclined.

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