Retsi Michael Pule

Jazz Singer

Retsi Pule performing at a music festival in South Africa.

Retsi Pule is a jazz singer hailing from the Eastern Cape. He is known for his smooth vocals, lively performances and American jazz influences. Pule was born in King William's Town in 1940. At around the age of 5 years, he would hear a catchy melody, and dance to the rhythm of the song to the delight of his family.

He sang at school as a chorister, as well as in the Anglican Church Choir. He also participated in various talent competitions. As a young boy, Pule fell in love with jazz when he started listening to it on the radio, and his family would play records by local jazz artists like Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Masuka and Manhattan Brothers.

He would listen to international musicians such as Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Today he is still very fond of American jazz and finds inspiration from the swanky, bluesy notes and vocals. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Pule started performing with close harmony groups around the East London area.

To keep up with competing big bands, Pule and his fellow band members would compose their own songs in the style of South African jazz, which gave them a different and energetic sound. In 1968, Pule went to Johannesburg and performed with local musicians like Early Mabuza, Barney Rachabane and Dennis Mpale.

Ten years later he released his debut album, Sdudla, which had a dynamic township jazz sound. In the late 1970’s Pule returned to the Eastern Cape where he collaborated with pianist Tete Mbambisa, occasionally playing with the famous Soul Jazzmen band. Pule is still an active performer and mentor.

In 2017 the Department of Arts and Culture awarded Pule with the 'Lifetime Contribution to Culture' award, in recognition of his present and ongoing contribution to the arts. He also started studying music at University of South Africa (UNISA), but due to lack of funds, he was unable to complete his studies.

Pule continues to build his legacy in the Eastern Cape where he is devoted to mentoring aspiring singers from previously disadvantaged communities, guiding them with basic vocal techniques and teaching them about jazz.

By Kwezi Kobus & Carla Lottering