The South African jazz scene is mourning the death of iconic artist, Bheki Mseleku following a long battle with diabetes.
In statement, Minister of Arts & Culture in South Africa Pallo Jordan described Mseleku as a “supremely talented creative visionary.” He added: “Perhaps more than any other musician of his generation, Mseleku was able to put his genius, that had defied man-made structural constraints, on the international map when it was easy to blame apartheid.”
Mseleku died Sept. 9 in his London home, aged 53. He had been living outside the country on-and-off since soon after the 1976 Soweto uprising against the apartheid regime, returning sporadically to his home country over the past three decades.
The Natal-born pianist first came to the attention of the industry in 1975 when he left the Lamontville township outside Durban and relocated to Johannesburg, where he became jazz fusion act Spirits Rejoice’s organ player.
A versatile instrumentalist, Mseleku found his footing in jazz, particularly once he had moved to Stockholm in 1980-1983, then London in 1985 where his debut show at Ronnie Scott’s was critically acclaimed.
Among Mseleku’s recorded works was his 1991 album “Celebration”, which was released on British indie World Circuit and nominated for the U.K.’s Mercury Music Prize the following year. He also received acclaim for “Meditations” (Verve, 1992), which was recorded live in the United Kingdom at the Bath International Music Festival.
Mseleku attempted to relocate back to South Africa in the early 1990s, playing several live shows before releasing “Home At Last” (2003, Sheer Music). He moved back to London permanently in 2006.
In his opening address to the Moshito Music Conference & Exhibition in Johannesburg Sept. 10, Department of Arts & Culture director-general Themba Wakashe said his department had been working on a tour that would have seen Mseleku playing extensively around South Africa in November this year.