As soon as he could play, Mr. Gwangwa was embroiled in the jazz boom in Sophiatown, a racially mixed neighborhood in Johannesburg that developed a vibrant youth culture in the post-war years.
Together with Mr. Masekela and saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, he traveled to Cape Town to look for Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), a young piano phenomenon that musicians in both cities were talking about. When they found him, the Jazz Epistles were born: six young talents who were all fascinated by American bebop but wanted to express the cosmopolitan imagination of young South Africans.
In 1960 police massacred a group of protesters against apartheid restrictions in Sharpeville parish. Harsh government policies followed in all sectors of society. After touring with King Kong in London, Mr. Gwangwa stayed abroad and eventually moved to New York to enroll at the Manhattan School of Music.
He lived with Mr. Masekela for a while and became increasingly active in the milieu of ANC-oriented expatriate artists. He helped edit the speech that the poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, an old friend, wrote in 1963 for the singer and activist Miriam Makeba to read at the United Nations. He was the arranger of a Grammy Award winning album for Ms. Makeba and Harry Belafonte, and he performed at the 1965 Carnegie Hall Sound of Africa concert with Mr. Masekela, Ms. Makeba and others. He also directed his own ensembles, including African Explosion, which produced an album entitled “Who?” (1969).
Mr. Gwangwa’s apartment in New York became a meeting place for fellow musicians and activists who are affectionately referred to as the “embassy”.
In 1976, after staying in Atlanta, Mr. Gwangwa moved with his family to Gaborone, Botswana, where he founded Shakawe, a group of exiled South African jazz musicians, and became a member of the Medu Art Ensemble, an interdisciplinary collective committed to anti-apartheid Struggle. In 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria, he performed at the Black African Festival of Second World Art and Culture known as Festac, a historic gathering of representatives from across the African continent and the diaspora. He picked up the spectrum of existing talents and decided to organize the South African artists in a unified multidisciplinary production. You were a hit.