SA jazz master Nduduzo Makhathini adds a PhD to list of accolades

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 Dr Ndunduzo Makhathini graduated with his PhD at Stellenbosch University.
Dr Ndunduzo Makhathini graduated with his PhD at Stellenbosch University.
Stefan Els

He is a leading figure in the South African jazz scene with many accolades to his name. And now he’ll be able to add another title – Dr Makhathini. 

One of South Africa’s top musicians Nduduzo Makhathini, from uMgungundlovu in KwaZula-Natal, was awarded a PhD at Stellenbosch University (SU) this week during the March graduation ceremonies. He is a pianist, an educator, a researcher, a composer, a producer, and a researcher.  

The award-winning musician regularly tours internationally and is the first South African jazz artist to be signed to the prestigious Blue Note jazz record label.

He has collaborated with many renowned artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Shabaka Hutchings, Nasheet Waits, Somi and Black Coffee. 

Nduduzo is also the Head of the Music Department at the University of Fort Hare. At Stellenbosch University he pursued an integrated PhD, which refers to degrees where artistic practice and writing are employed as two modalities that mutually inform and articulate a single research project. 

He describes himself as a healer, improviser and scholar.

“I’m interested in improvisations in South African jazz and fellowships with spirituality. This comes from an upbringing in a musical family and community, and the blessing of learning about sound in a ritual context. These interests have led to a long itinerary of searching all around the world,” he explains.

He believes that the process of writing music is spiritual and is somewhat of a ritual. 

He is grateful for the support and encouragement he received from his wife, family and friends.

“I've been writing this PhD while traveling between soundchecks and spending time with really incredible thinkers and artists around the world.” He is also grateful for spiritual inspiration. “In my research, I propose the notion of writing as a ritual. In this context, writing considers the spiritual paradigm as an active site for revelations and prophecies, so I want to also thank the dimension that I regard in my work as an ‘elsewhere’.” 

He was a student at the Africa Open Institute for Music, Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at SU. His doctoral project, titled “Breaking into Sound: Dis/Locating Ntu Cosmology and Improvisation in South African Jazz”, is deeply rooted in Zulu cosmology.

Taking an explicitly Africa-centred approach, Makhathini’s research developed a framework for such an understanding, drawing on the literature on African cosmologies and ritual, the work of Philip Tabane, Busi Mhlongo, Bheki Mseleku and Zim Ngqawana as case studies of musicians in whose work spirituality is central, as well as his own artistic practice as improviser and healer.

Nduduzo has released eight albums since 2014, when he founded the recording label Gundu Entertainment along with his wife, Omagugu. He was signed by Universal Music South Africa in 2018. Soon after, he became the first South African artist to sign with iconic jazz label Blue Note Records for his albums Letters from the Underworlds (2020) and The Spirit of Ntu (2022).

He credits his wife for enabling him to juggle performing, composing, teaching and learning. “I’m blessed to have such a supportive partner. She is an incredible artist herself but has been selflessly supporting my journey for many years. She makes everything possible and I love her deeply.”

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