Billy Monama to pay tribute to icon Allen Kwela

Music lovers will be taken down memory lane

Jazz artist and music historian Billy Monama will pay tribute to guitar great Allen Kwela.
Jazz artist and music historian Billy Monama will pay tribute to guitar great Allen Kwela.
Image: Siphiwe Mhlambi

Author, composer and producer Billy Monama plans to take music lovers down memory lane when he presents a tribute to late guitarist Allen Kwela at a festival in a few weeks. 

Monama is among stars billed to perform at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz taking place on September 29 and 30 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. 

Kwela was born in Chesterville in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in 1936 and played penny whistle and guitar.

He worked with the likes of Spokes Mashiane. 

Monama said he was grateful to pay tribute to the man he met briefly just before he passed on in 2003.

The artist defines Kwela as one of the greatest music composer of all time. 

“I was introduced to him just before he died by Glen Mafoko. I knew his music. While doing research, I interviewed his wife and I learnt that Allen was aggressive on stage and hated chance takers. 

“At the festival, I will be playing music from his album Past, Present and Future and its lyrics were written by Sibongile Khumalo. For me, it says Allen was in a state of mind where he understood what the future looks like. He was the greatest composers of all time. I will be bringing his earliest compositions from The Suitcase, an album that has so much heritage and history.

“It was recorded during Black Consciousness Movement times. I want to bring that until his last album. I am excited because I will also representing my music which was inspired by Allen.” 

Monama will perform with vocalist Mimi Mtshali.

“Mimi is a special musician and she comes from a jazz, as well as gospel, background. She has kind a similar training that Sibongile Khumalo had.” 

Prior to his performance at the festival, Monama will present Mayibuye iAfrika: The Freedom Songs, which is a musical journey and conversation between two generations of ancestral artists at The Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg.

He will be joined by Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Judith Sephuma and Titi Luzipo. 

“The concert aims to be a re-visioning of heritage music for modern years. The concert will be held on September 9 to pay homage to the first exile generation of indomitable composers and a second exile generation of musicians. Part one will comprise choral freedom songs from the earliest compositions recorded by ANC exiles in Tanzania. The fresh arrangement will feature work by Vuyisile Mini, Zinakele Nkaba and Wilson Khayingo.” 

Monama who began his musical journey in 1997 was inspired by the music of his childhood, which combined traditional ethnic sounds, African gospel and jazz.

To date he has worked with artists like Themba Mkhize, Abdullah Ibrahim, Andile Yenana, Sibongile Khumalo, Victor Ntoni, Mabuse, Mbongeni Ngema, Dorothy Masuku, Abigail Kubeka, collaborative performance with Dave Koz and Denise Jannah.  

In 2016, Monama and Andy Innes released their album Brothers, a collection of original pieces written and arranged for the acoustic guitar in traditional styles.

The following year, he released his debut album Rebounce.

In 2022, he published the first tutorial book Introduction to South African Guitar Styles Vol.1 – “Five Decades of Ukuvamba” (1930s – 1980s).

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