Chris McGregor

Chris with the Castle Lager Big Band, 1963. Photo by Basil Breakey

Chris with the Castle Lager Big Band, 1963. Photo by Basil Breakey

Chris McGregor was a pianist and arranger who loved people and the music of the people. His starting point was always the people – when he arranged he arranged parts for a specific person. His own songs were usually about people – Bakwetha, Maxine, Andromeda, Mandisa. Even when the name did not reflect it his songs were about people – Mayibuye is a song for Nelson Mandela, Dakar celebrates the ground-breaking meeting of people from the liberation movement with people from South Africa. His music rhythmically and harmonically was rooted in the music of the amaXhosa people among whom he grew up, and the sounds of the Xhosa students singing, in their own inimitable way, the music of the Scottish Church. But his music was not in any way an exercise in nostalgia – he was passionately concerned about issues of the day, environmental degradation, the politics of exploitation, racism, the nuclear threat. All of these were part of his experience and showed in various ways in his music which was sophisticated without being esoteric. People could and did dance to his music. Wherever he played he spread joy and fun. Because he believed in people and wanted his music to be for the people.

Tony McGregor

Pretoria: 14 August 2007.

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