Mlungisi Gegana is a name that needs no introduction. Among Stompi Mavi, Margaret Mcinganga and Jordan Bangazi his name sits comfortably and he can be regarded as another legend from the ‘little jazz town’.
Born in 1961, he could not have anticipated that the days spent strumming an oilcan guitar would lead to a whirlwind adventure around the world and see him celebrated as one of the best upright bassist guitarists in the country.
His early life was dedicated to ‘liberating the music’ inspired by Johnny Dyani, an anti-apartheid activist and fellow, whose music he came across jamming in the club scene around Cape Town. He told the Mail & Guardian in 2003: “I have always run away from embracing the influence of other musicians. I don’t like this thing that there’s an identifiable ‘Berklee sound’ or even a ‘UCT sound’. But when I listened to Johnny, he did not sound like anybody else. He was always in search of a new sound. I thought, this is what I want to do; this one can influence me!”
With three albums in his discography, One Step Forward released in 2004 and I Am Who Am I in 2014, he has charted his own path, sharing the stage and working with the biggest names in music across different genres. He has featured on the albums of Thandiswa Mazwai, McCoy Mrubata and Sivile, among others. He has extensively toured Scandinavia, led an international quintet at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival that paid tribute to Johnny Dyani and was regularly featured at the Grahamstown Arts Festival.
He is now on a different mission – returning Komani to its rightful place musically. “I saw the condition at home and wanted to bring development to our music industry,” said Gegana.
He started the Mlungisi Music Academy in 2018 to help local youths who have a passion for music, but may not have a way into the competitive industry. He is also one of the founding members of Sounds and Rhythm Music Association (Sarma). “A lot of artists do not have the know-how to crack the industry. The aim is to empower them while also teaching the younger generation music.”
Sarma has taken on an ambitious project. By bringing notable musicians around town under one vision and common purpose, Sarma is creating a space for the old and young to come and define what music in Komani will look like in the next 10 years. “People like Malibongwe Mtsabe, Mike Ntwasa and Thembelani Ntaba responded very positively when I broached the idea. Artists come from communities and are part of families/ If we can help them make a living from their music, we will have achieved our goal,” he said.