In her element...Pinise Saul on stage


By Brian Moyo

THE passing of legendary South African singer Pinise Saul, who died from cancer last night in London’s St Thomas hospital, has prompted an outpouring of condolence messages.

Facebook is awash with messages from Pinise’s fellow musicians, friends and fans paying tribute with personal anecdotes about what they most loved about the charismatic singer who spent more than 40 years in exile in the UK.

Pinise, who was born in the Eastern Cape is widely regarded as one of the foremost exponents of South African jazz.

Her distinctive and soulful voice captivated fans for many years at London’s 100 Club where she played regularly with fellow South African musicians, including Julian Bahula, Dudu Pukwane, Lucky Ranku and Eugene Skeef in the early part of the 1980’s.

Adam Glasser, the multi-instrumentalist and harmonica specialist who joined Dudu Pukwana’s group, Zila, in 1985 is one of musicians who worked regularly and for many years with Pinise.

Pinise came to London in 1975 as part of the iconic South African musical troupe, Iphi-Ntombi. After her stint with Iphi-Ntombi, she stayed on in London like many of the troupe members to continue her career in the UK. She subsequently worked with fellow South African band leader, Julian Bahula in a group known as, Jabula.

Pinise Saul in social mode
Pinise Saul in social mode

Jabula’s highlights included performing alongside reggae legend Bob Marley and Patti Labelle during the Unity Festival in Boston, Massachusetts in the US. Their 1977 Live in Amsterdam recording featured Saul on vocals, Julian Bahula (drums), Lucky Ranku (guitar), Mike Rose (flute/alto sax), Dave Defries (trumpet) and bassist Steve Scipio. 

The album was banned by the apartheid authorities.

Pinise also featured on vocals in Jabula’s subsequent albums, which were also banned by the South African government – Africa Awake (1978), African Soul (1979) and Freedom Yes! Apartheid No! The latter was also released in 1979.

One of Pinise’s rare concerts in South Africa after independence was in December 1990 when she teamed up with Ranku for their first performance in Johannesburg during Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert.

Below are some of the messages posted by musicians, friends and fans:

ELLIOT NGUBANE: It is very sad that so many of our artists are dying from cancer. Doreen, Julia and now Pinise.

TONY MCGREGOR: Blasting “Mra-Khali” from this great album in memory of the wonderful Pinise Saul who left us yesterday. So sad. She will be missed by all who love South African music

EUGENE SKEEF: In memory of Pinise Saul, the legendary South African singer Pinise Saul, who passed away in London yesterday. Here is Aryan Kaganof’s video of Pinise rehearsing.

VUVU FANI: What a loss… She was indeed the Queen of jazz. May her soul rest in peace.

PATRICK MGUNGULU NGWENYA: Oooh those are very bad news. May she RIP.

NIGEL PRICE Sorry to hear this. She was a nice lady who always seemed to have a smile.

BRIAN HOMER: Oh no! That is so sad. I only met her at the brilliant Township Comets gig for Birmingham Jazz two years ago. I’ll remember that night not just for the great music but the arrival of a SA theatre group in the room and the resulting banter in Xhosa.

GERRY PLATT: Very sad, I got to say goodbye yesterday, she was with friends when she passed. RIP Pinise.

ADAM GLASSER: With great sadness I learnt that Pinise Saul passed away earlier this evening in London. Collaborators since 1985 in Dudu Pukwana’s Zila, I am unable to express how much she enriched my joyous connection to the South African jazz we loved. 

Photos by Michael G. Spafford