A South African Legend


The only surviving Blue Notes member, as he remembers being captivated by the rhythm of the bass drum diligently keeping the passing scout marching band in toe. Later, the sounds of American jazz making its way through the radio fed his growing passion for drumming, until that day he was able to start playing his own beats with The CHORDETTES and The Swinging City, but it was his band.

Mongezi Nick Chris Johnny and Louis Moholo

The Blue Notes – Zurich 1963

Louis Moholo born in Cape Town, South Africa, knew from a very early age that he wanted to play the drums. After working with many groups, and being awarded “ The Best Drummer of the Jabulani Festival 1964, he had  already met up with,  now known as the “ stars “ of those days,  Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza,  Nick Moyakhe, Chris McGregor,  and Johnny Dyani,  with whom a journey of escape and development was about to begin.  

The Blue Notes after playing around SA, just escaping the forces of the Apartheid, were invited to the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1964, and after playing in festivals / clubs around Europe finally arrived in England in 1965.  The music scene was knocked sideways with their stimulating rhythms and songs which influenced the jazz and improvised music scene in Europe which was also establishing its own identity at this time.

Chris Johnny and Louis Moholo

Chris Johnny and Louis

In 1965-67 Louis toured South America with Steve Lacy, returning to Britain in time to join Chris McGregor’s newly formed Brotherhood of Breath which stunned audiences  around Europe with their  own special South African big band sound. Within this big band there were many other combinations of which Louis and Harry Miller on bass, formed one of the most formidable rhythm sections, such as Mike Osborne’s Trio,  Elton Dean’s Ninesense, Harry’s own group Isipingo, and various groups led by Dudu Pukwana.

All of Louis’s activities have been about cultural/musical synthesis and juxtaposition involving him with the rising talents in Europe. Enrico Rava in Italy, Misha Mengelberg, Curtis Clark, and Tristan Honsinger in Holland, Irene Schweizer in Switzerland, Peter Brotzmann in Germany, and was part of the Keith Tippett musical concepts, Centipede, Ark, and more recently the exceptional duo, ‘No Gossip’. One of the most exciting groups he led in the early seventies was the mighty Spirits Rejoice featuring Evan Parker, Radu Malfatti, Nick Evans, Kenny Wheeler, Keith Tippett and the twin SA basses of Harry Miller and Johnny Dyani. Resurrected in 2000 and toured the UK for the Arts Council of Great Britain, with Paul Rogers on bass.

During the eighties Louis toured America with Peter Brotzmann’s trio, and continued to work in Holland, Switzerland and Germany leading his own groups and developing many musical partnerships, including duos with Cecil Taylor in Berlin, Irene Schweizer in Switzerland.

Another important milestone in Louis’s career was the forming in 1990’s of his nine piece band ‘ Viva-La-Black ‘, which became the first group to tour South Africa, arranged by the British Council, as the lifting of Apartheid and freedom became imminent. For Louis, after 30 years in exile, to bring his music and to be able to play with the musicians of his choice, was one of the most important moments of his career. The overwhelming reception from the people to one of their most important musicians was beyond description.

He was honoured by the magazine Straight No Chaser in 1994, ‘Mark Of Respect’ award for his contribution to the freedom of his country through music, and in 1997 the Cobert / Langa Organisation in Cape Town, South Africa, on its 17th anniversary awarded him ‘For up-lifting the Community through outstanding achievement in Music’.

Louis Moholo receives honours from President Mbeki

Louis Moholo receives honours from President Mbeki

The President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr TM Mbeki, presented him with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2007 for the Blue Notes’ excellent achievement in the genre of jazz and defying apartheid laws by forming a multiracial group.. In the same year, he received the ‘Living Heritage Award’ for his contribution in music, from Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan.

1990 saw the end of the Blue Notes when Chris and Dudu died, Nick, Mongezi, Johnny and Harry Miller having already gone leaving Louis as the lone voice of an extraordinary movement in the history of jazz. In a mark of respect Louis became one of the instigators of a memorial to these great musicians by forming the Dedication Orchestra, playing their music ensuring it could still be enjoyed, and not forgotten. The legacy is too precious and needs to be part of South Africas’ heritage. The musicians who contributed to this project gave their support freely and two CDs were produced to raise funds for the Trust. The trust hopes to arrange a bursary in Cape Town for young African musicians.

With such a varied musical career covering the many aspects of the development of improvised jazz music, being a major contributor, Louis feels that now working with, and exploring, many different musical concepts is the direction for the future. Through workshops, teaching, and working with young musicians in various groups. He has now returned to his home country but returns frequently to appear in Europe, America, America, Japan, and Canada by demand.


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