Mtutuzeli Dudu Pukwana was a renowned saxophonist born on 18 July 1938 in Walmer Township in Port Elizabeth. The young Pukwana grew up studying the piano at his home and went on to play with the Broadway yanks and later the Four Yanks. In a turn of events that would alter his music career, Pukwana met tenor saxophonist Nikele Moyake. This chance meeting saw Pukwana change his chosen musical instrument from piano to alto sax.
Later in life, Pukwana met musician Chris Macgregor who invited him to join his group, the Blue Notes. This would prove to be the first of many groups that he would join. The Blue Notes comprised of four other members, Mongezi Feza, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo. The sextet became very successful but since it was a mixed race group, it was constantly harassed and performances often thwarted by the security police under the apartheid regime. The political turmoil in the country led to the group opting to emigrate to Europe. They went to the Antibes Jazz Festival in France, then to Zuric before finally settling in London at Ronnie Scott’s. Sadly the group disbanded in 1951.
Pukwana later joined his former Blue Notes band mate Macgregor in the Brotherhood of Breath, a band Macgregor formed after leaving the Blue notes. He quickly became an asset to his new group as he finally showcased his skills as a composer. He later left the Brotherhood of Breath to form a band with two former Blue Notes members, Moholo and Feza. They called themselves Assegai. The group would eventually disband and he formed yet another band, The Spear. In 1978, Pukwana treaded outside of his comfort zone when he started his own recording company, Jika Records. Simultaneously he founded what would be his last band, Zila.
Pukwana may have begun his career as a pianist, but he became known for his skills as a composer and a saxophonist. One of his most popular songs is “Mra”, which he composed for The Brotherhood of Breath. Throughout his career he had collaborated with high profiled jazz artists like Hugh masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Mongezi Feza and Don Cherry. One of the highlights of his career was when he got to be one of the artists featured at the Nelson Mandela Tribute in 1989 in Wembley Stadium.
Pukwana died in London on 30 June 1990 of liver failure.
Breakly, B & Gordon, S, (1997), Beyond the Blues: Township Jazz in the '60s and '70s, (David Phillip), p.19|