Winston Monwabisi Mankunku Ngozi was born on 21 June 1943, in Retreat, Cape Town. He was the first-born in a musical family. In the 1960’s the Apartheid government continued its project of racial divide, and the enactment of the Group Areas Act was the most prominent example. Ngozi’s family was one of the families that suffered from this Act. They were forced to move from Retreat to one of the local townships Gugulethu. Ngozi was a naturally talented musician, who started to play around with the piano when he was seven year old. He then later tried the clarinet and trumpet as means to advance his musical talents. As time passed he realized that his love for musical sound was the saxophone; first he learned the alto and then the tenor saxophone. This is the period in which he drew inspiration from the likes of John Coltrane, a local saxophonist known as “Cups & Saucers,” and the pianist Merton Barrow. With these talented musicians as his idols, Ngozi became a renowned musician in his own right.
Ngozi made huge contributions to the development of jazz during the last three decades in South Africa. He distinguished himself as a seasoned composer in the industry bringing different trends and styles in Thus his music is not only known in South Africa, but also in the whole of the Southern Africa region. Ngozi’s well-known reputation can also be credited to his numerous collaborations with many other jazz legends. These include working with jazz artists such as Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana, Barney Rachabane and Victor Ntoni. In addition to those collaborations, he also worked on many projects with the well-known group of Port Elizabeth called The Soul Men.
Many of the South African artists went to the United States and Europe to further their careers, but Ngozi chose to stay in his native South Africa and he refused exile. This made things difficult for him as he was faced with many of the racial laws that defined Apartheid South Africa. Specific to his career was the Separate Amenities Act. It has been said that he was once performed with an all-White big band in Cape Town City Hall in 1964 even though the Apartheid regime did not allow for a mixed-race band to function. Ngozi was then forced to play his saxophone behind the curtain, so that he was not visible to the audience.
In 1968 the Mankunku Quarter released Yakhal’ Inkomo, and this record launched Ngozi's popularity in the households of the South African townships. It became one of the best selling albums in South Africa, and was recorded with the Early Mabuza Trio which featured the drummer, bassist Agrippa Magwaza and pianist Lionel Pillay. The title of the album literally translated to mean the “the bellowing bull”-- the troubled cry made by the cattle when they smell the blood of a slaughtered cow. This album had political connotations and fostered awareness in the Black community. In the same year, Ngozi received the Castle Larger Jazz Musician of the Year Award. The album was been re-released by Teal Records in 1975, 1985 an 1989, and since 1996 it has been available.
In the following years of this period, Ngozi featured as saxophonist on two releases-- with the Chris Schilder Quintet in 1969 and The Cliffs in 1975. He also closely associated himself with Stompie Manana and Roger Khoza, together with The Cliffs. Disillusioned by the music industry after these few recordings, for over a period of ten years his name did not appear on the recordings, rather, it appeared under the pseudonym Sammy Hartman on his 1976 LP, “District Six.”
In 1986 Ngozi came back with a big bang. He worked with the well-known and acclaimed pianist Mike Perry and they released the album Jika; an album that raised political consciousness to the people. Songs such as Wajikeleza and Asiyapo carried strong political messages. The album was recorded both in Cape Town and London. It featured a number of exiled South African musicians including Bheki Mseleku, Russell Herman, and Lucky Ranku. The album gained international popularity and was also released in Australia (Avan-Guard), the US (Intersound) and in Germany (ITM) under the tile Crossroads.
In 1989, Ngozi and Perry went for a tour in Europe. This tour included concerts in Germany and the UK where he performed with exiles such as Dudu Pukwana, Ernest Mothle and Gilbert Matthews. Ngozi has been an attraction to many of the most important events such as the annual Standard Bank Grahamstown National Arts Festival in 1990, 1991 and 1993, the “Sax Appeal, The Journey Continues” at Sun City Superbowl in 1992, the Johannesburg Arts Festival in 1993 and the Johannesburg Guinness Jazz Festival in 1993. In the year 1993, also Ngozi released two live recordings with Radio South Africa’s “Live At” series, and for CCV TV’s Jazz Studio.
With his Mankunku Quintet band, Ngozi travelled extensively throughout Southern Africa, and also he has completed a highly successful 12-stop tour of Sweden at the invitation of the Swedish Jazz Federation late in 1993. In 1996 he was invited to perform twice in Belgium, with the pianist Jack Van Poll.
Ngozi died in Cape Town at the age of 66 years on 13 October 2009. He has been described as a shy, humble and caring character both for his family and humanity.