Mongezi Feza

An Original Voice of Jazz

©Dr Peter Magubane
A young Mongezi Feza at a jazz performance in the 1950's.

Mongezi Feza was a South African jazz trumpeter and flautist. He was known for fusing kwela rhythms and African melodies with jazz during his improvisations. Feza was born in Queenstown, Eastern Cape and started playing the trumpet at an early age. In his teen years, he started playing professionally in jazz groups.

He and fellow Eastern Cape musician Tete Mbambisa moved to Cape to perform with other local jazz musicians. It was there where he was spotted by prominent jazz pianist Chris McGregor, who invited him to join the Blue Notes, a jazz band he was part of. Along with the band, Feza went into exile in 1964, where he played at the Antibes Jazz Festival in France and then in other European countries such as Britain and Denmark.

Feza featured in ensembles led by McGregor, and played alongside saxophonist Dudu Pukwana in his groups Assagai and Spear in the early 1970s. Feza recorded one of his last sessions with Pukwana. Feza was an avid musician; he played with passion and tenacity, and was always ready to deliver an explosive improvisation during performances.

His mix of swanky jazz tunes and African flair made him a star musician in the European jazz scene. Feza died in 1975 due to health complications while still in exile. His untimely death left a hole in the European-South African jazz scene, and one of the most original voices of South African jazz was lost.

By Carla Lottering