Dumza Maswana, a multifaceted artist, is adored for his resonant jazzy vocals

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Born in the vibrant small town of Ngqushwa in the Eastern Cape, Dumza Maswana was drawn to music at an early age. His grandmother was his first teacher, introducing him to the art of singing and storytelling.

His passion for music impelled him to form Healing Voices, an all-male gospel group he started at 17 years old before moving to Johannesburg to further his musical interests.

Having been influenced by Victor Ntoni, Jabu Khanyile and Ringo Madlingozi, Dumza’s lyrical prowess, wide vocal range, and authenticity earned him a SAMA nomination for his debut album, Molo, released in 2016.

The album was well-received, with gems such as Emihle, dedicated to his daughter, and Nomthandazo, listed on 17 radio stations, including Kaya-FM, Umhlobo Wenene, and SAfm. His song The Letter was awarded Best Jazz Song at the 2017 Mzansi Jazz Awards.

Dumza Maswana. Image: SIX BLX

Maswana’s artistry has taken him to global stages like the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, where he was accompanied by the Mzansi Musical Ensemble and the Sing! Festival in Toronto, Canada.

Locally, he’s graced stages at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Macufe Festival, and Buyelekhaya Music Festival. In his live shows, Maswana leads the audience on captivating journeys, engaging them in his enchanting storytelling and soulful melodies. His latest release is the live album “Live at The Guild Theatre

He has shared stages with South Africa’s top musicians like Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana, Ringo Madlingozi, and more, and opened for international stars like Kenny Lattimore and Chanté Moore.

The talented artist has collaborated with DJ Mobi Dixon and DJ Palture, as well as Black Motion and Banda Banda. His latest album, ‘Celebrating African Song,’ was produced by the renowned South African jazz pianist Andile Yenana. Additionally, he hosts a jazz music show on Umhlobo Wenene FM, highlighting South African Jazz and its artists.

GQ had a chat with Dumza to delve into the future of jazz music and his upcoming projects.

GQ: How did you first get interested in jazz music, and what drew you to become a jazz artist?

Dumza Maswana: I used to be a fervent Gospel enthusiast until I arrived in Port Elizabeth. Immersing myself in live shows and jam sessions introduced me to a new world, where musicians took a keen interest in me, imparting Jazz standards that reshaped my musical journey.

My mentor, Bongani Tulwana, played a pivotal role, introducing me to Jazz, organising my debut Jazz gig where we sang Manhattan Brothers’ songs. However, it was Zim Ngqawana’s “EBhofolo” from the Vhadzimu album that truly transformed my life forever.

Dumza Maswana. Image: SIX BLX

GQ: Who are your biggest musical influences, both within jazz and outside the genre?

DM: My influences span a wide range, drawing inspiration from iconic figures like Jabu Khanyile, Simphiwe Dana, Victor Ntoni, Victor Ndlazilwana, along with numerous other lesser-known artists. However, the most profound influence on me has been the singing and storytelling of my grandmother, as well as the women in my village. I spent my formative years emulating their singing styles, dance moves, linguistic expressions, and even their attire for various traditional events.

GQ: Are there any specific themes or messages you try to convey through your music?

DM: In my music, I explore a range of themes, drawing inspiration from emotions like love, anger, disappointment, and my appreciation of nature. The interplay of sound and language is crucial in my songwriting, emphasising the importance of both elements. While I delve into various themes, I particularly enjoy creating uplifting and joyful songs.

GQ: What achievements stand out most in your career?

DM: Performing my music worldwide has been an incredible experience. Both of my studio albums have received nominations at SAMAs, won Jazz awards, and garnered recognition from the industry. However, what truly matters to me is the connection my music forms with people across the globe. From Scotland to Canada, India, and beyond, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my music, and the feedback has been heartwarming.

What sets my journey apart is that I’ve taken an independent route, allowing my music to reach listeners without extravagant marketing campaigns. It’s amazing how my voice resonates with listeners, even if they haven’t seen my face. This recognition is deeply meaningful to me. Moreover, I’ve had the honour of sharing my experiences with students at universities and recently collaborated with the University of Zululand on the song “Sombawo,” a project that holds a special place in my heart.

GQ: How do you navigate your creative process, particularly when generating ideas for your songs?

DM: I frequently return to my grandmother’s hut, drawn by the harmonious melodies of the elderly women in my village. Yet, I also find inspiration in engaging with other artists. Collaborating with a talented group of musicians, all well-versed in musical theory, greatly enhances my compositional skills. Their ability to intuitively grasp my creative direction in the moment is invaluable. Together, my band and I have honed our craft over nearly a decade of collaboration.

GQ: As a radio presenter, what do you find most fulfilling about sharing jazz music with your audience?

DM: My jazz show on Umhlobo Wenene focuses mostly on South African and African jazz but plays all jazz. I always take my listeners to the recording studio, to the live shows, to the thinking behind songs, and share with them the history of the records they love. I always get feedback that they love that I don’t just play songs and leave them to dance and sing, but I always go deep. Giving a platform to South African Jazz musicians and introducing them to the SA audiences is what makes me happy.

GQ: How do you think jazz music has evolved over the years, and what impact has it had on contemporary music?

DM: I’m still a music and Jazz student, so my insights are based on what I’ve observed. South African Jazz has evolved through various elements, with the most significant being the diverse cultural tapestry of our country and the profound influence of African musical traditions.


The jazz sound has come full circle, returning to its African roots. I wish more people could appreciate the brilliance of African jazz instead of dismissing it. Jazz has a rich history of endurance and creativity, and it will undoubtedly continue shaping and inspiring diverse music genres worldwide.

GQ: What can fans expect from your upcoming music?

DM: Since 2022, I’ve delved into composing orchestral music, reimagining my recorded pieces and crafting new compositions. The grandeur of big band music has always captivated me, and now, being able to bring that to life on stage fills me with excitement. My upcoming music is going to embody that larger-than-life sound. I’m eagerly anticipating sharing my new “Umgqungqo orchestral” style with everyone.

The response has been fantastic; we’ve already staged it three times to enthusiastic audiences. Our next performance is scheduled for August 3rd in Gqeberha, and I can’t wait for what’s in store. Throughout my albums, I’ve always performed my music live before recording, and those who’ve experienced the shows can attest to the thrill and anticipation it brings.

GQ: How do you balance tradition and innovation in your approach to jazz?

DM: I’m deeply passionate about traditional music as well as free improvisation and creative music. However, traditional or indigenous music often gets grouped under the broad term “world music,” which doesn’t capture the rich nuances and historical depth that make each sound unique and exceptional.

Dumza Maswana. Image: SIX BLX

To bridge this gap and make these musical treasures more accessible, I incorporate elements of jazz, which not only preserves the authenticity of the sounds but also appeals to newer generations. Jazz serves as a powerful tool for many of us to express ourselves in profound ways.

GQ: What advice would you give to aspiring jazz musicians who are looking to establish themselves in the industry?

DM: Don’t shy away from self-expression. Attend live performances by other artists. Dedicate time to practise your craft. Stay authentic to your vision. Don’t fret about conforming to a specific “jazzy” style; focus on honesty instead. Remember, some admired artists may not appreciate your creative twists; if faced with criticism or dismissal, learn from it without losing your direction. Trust in your purpose and continue to pursue it.

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