Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gito Baloi -- Bad Night in Joburg

One of South Africa's leading jazz musicians, Baloi was born in Maputo in the war-torn country of Mozambique in 1964.  Learning to play music on discarded paraffin tins and water reeds, Baloi was 14 when he borrowed a bass guitar for his first public concerts.  He toured extensively in Mozambique with the band Afro 78, and formed Pongola in 1986 ultimately settling in South Africa to escape the strife in his home country.  In 1987, the bassist-vocalist co-founded the jazz/jive fusion trio Tananas with drummer Steve Newman and guitarist Ian Herman.  Combining Baloi's knowledge of traditional African music with the co-members' innovative jazz fusion background, Tananas became a hit with both black and white South Africans.  The group signed with independent South African label Shifty Records in 1988 and later that year released their revolutionary self-titled debut album, Tananas.  A skillful blend of several musical styles (jazz, township jive, Mozambican salsa), the record cemented the group's cult status in South Africa, and led to tours on the African continent as well as in Japan, France, and Sweden.  Other successful albums on different labels followed (Spiral, 1990; Time, 1992) prior to the group;s disbanding in 1994 to pursue different musical paths.  Tananas briefly reformed with its original members in 1996 to release the album Seed, but Baloi spent most of the 1990s as either a solo performer, a founder and encourager of other groups, or in collaboration with international artists like Sting and Tracy Chapman.  In 1992, the bassist toured France with musicians from Zaire and Mali, and formed the bands Skabenga and Somewhere Else.  Baloi's first solo album, Ekaya, was released in 1996 and peaked at Number 2 on the Johannesburg Metro Radio charts.  Albums Na Ku Randza and Herbs and Roots followed in 1997 and 2002, respectively.

Baloi, 39, was returning from a poorly attended show with Landscape Prayer's Nibs van der Spuy in Pretoria's Lucit Candle Gardens to his home in the Kensington district of Johannesburg when he was shot three times by two gunmen in a central street in that city in the early morning hours of April 4, 2004.  Struck in the neck, the musician managed to drive his car fifty yards before getting out, staggering a few feet, then collapsing dead on the pavement.  The robber's took Baloi's wallet, but left his instruments in the car.  South Africa, long known as the murder capital of the world, has a crime rate estimated at eight times the overall homicide rate of the United States.  A spokesman for the African National Congress Youth League characterized the dead musician as "an icon for millions of young people" who contributed "to the creation of a free South Africa through art."  Acting on a public tip in late April 2004, police arrested four men (ages 21-28) in connection with the murder and confiscated three guns, two of them unlicensed.  As of May 2005, however, no one has been charged with Baloi's murder and the case remains open.

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