Saxophonist, flute player, band leader and composer
Born in 1959 in Cape Town’s historic Langa township, South Africa. Reedman McCoy Mrubata grew up with the sounds of African music: the soulful hymns of the Zion Church, the chants and rhythms of traditional healers and the brassy jive of the Merry Macs band who rehearsed opposite his home. When schooling became impossible in the fiery aftermath of the 1976 uprising, the young McCoy then playing flute studied informally under Langa greats like Madoda Gxabeka, Winston Ngozi , the Ngcukanas, Ezra and Duke, Blackie Tempi and Robert Sithole.
By the early 1980s he was playing in cover bands like Fever, Touch , Airborne and Vukani, from there he moved to crossover outfit Louis and the Jive. In 1987 McCoy was spotted by bandleader Sipho Hotstix Mabuse who helped him make Joburg his home. In 1988 he joined PJ Powers band and also that year McCoy was sported by veteran producer Koloi Lebona who offered him a recording deal with a British based record company Zomba Records the same record company had produced music for, amongst others: Jonathan Butler and Billy Ocean. McCoy’s debut album, Firebird was released the following year.
In 1989 he formed Brotherhood, which also included guitarist Jimmy Dludlu pianist Nhlanhla Magagula and Lucas Khumalo and later Moses Molelekwa. In 1990 the band won the Gilbey's Music for Africa competition , beating top bands like Bayethe , Peto , Stax and Zanusi.
In 1992 he began touring with Hugh Masekela’s Lerapo, alongside Vusi and Bakithi Khumalo , Lawrence Matshiza and the late Moses Molelekwa among others. He also created his own bands, Cape to Cairo and McCoy and Friends. In the mid 1990s, he made the first of a series of albums as leader for the independent Sheer Sound label: Tears of Joy. The personnel of Friends, including pianist Paul Hanmer, bassist Andre Abrahamse and trombonist Jabu Magubane among others have formed a consistent team of collaborators for McCoy. Since those days, more albums have followed: Phosa Ngasemva, Hoelykit, Face the Music which won the 2003 South African Music Award in the Traditional Jazz category and Icamagu Livumile which won the same award in 2005 and Brasskap Sessions Volume 1 won the 2008 award.
McCoy also won awards with bands : The Sheer All Stars and Kulturation.
In addition, McCoy has collaborated with a dazzling array of South African jazz players, and with overseas artists such as Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. He has been involved in drama, creating scores for South African productions about journalist Bloke Modisane and saxophone legend Kippie Moeketsi . McCoy also worked In three Norwegian productions ( with Nordic Black Theatre ) : two In 1994/5 In SA and In Oslo on two Bob Marley Musicals and in 2001 starring in play based on the life of John Coltrane “Beyond The Blues”
, playing a leading role. He has also created what he calls the Young Friends: a collaboration with the next generation of South African jazzmen.
McCoy's other projects Include Kulturation a duo-led album with pianist Wessel van Rensburg exploring new interpretations of tunes from the African and Afrikaans communities. This project blends together familiar tunes from the Xhosa and Zulu cultures with Afrikaans folk music tunes fusing these into contemporary versions of local South Africa music. Vivid Africa, is another collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Greg Georgiadis, using instruments like oudh and bouzouki alongside saxophones to explore the musical spices of the East African coast. McCoy was also a member of a super band Sheer All Stars which consisted of some of the best musicians In SA Jazz : the late Sipho Gumede,Errol Dyers, Paul Hanmer,Frank Pako, Wessel van Rensburg and Louis Mhlanga. They recorded three albums; Indibano, Live at the Blues Room and Dance With Me.
In 2012 McCoy and his long time friend Paul Hanmer released a CD that was recorded live In 2009 at Alte Kirche Boswil, Switzerland during the Kulak Jazz festival.
McCoy was made ambassador for the Angola COCAN 2010 football competition and travelled to Angola with his band to perform and promote the competition.
In January 2011 McCoy and his pianist Luyanda Madope collaborated with Norwegian musicians In project called Indibano and they performed at the Nordic Black Theatre In Oslo.
McCoy also conducted the 2012 South African Youth Jazz Band In June/July that year at the Grahamstown Arts Festival and they also performed In August at the Joy Of Jazz In Newtown JHB South Africa.
In 2012 McCoy was among the top Jazz educators who helped to launch the Jazz Faculty at University Of South Africa and has subsequently conducted workshops and master classes commissioned by the Institution.
In 2014 McCoy went on a successful USA tour with a collaborative band called Uhadi of which he directs. The band comprise of some of SA top Jazz musicians :, Feya Faku , Paul Hanmer , Herbie Tsoaeli and Justin Badenhorst. and guest Sibongile Khumalo.
In June 2014 McCoy release a CD “Brasskap Sessions Volume 2” and went on a national tour promote It.
In 2015 “Brasskap Sessions Volume 2” won the SAMA’s best Jazz Album category.
McCoy had a good run In Switzerland from the 26 August to 28 September 2015 at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club, Basel University and St Gallen playing with three different bands. The Bird’s Eye run was recorded and a double CD , “ McCoy Mrubata Live At The Bird’s Eye Is out now.
McCoy and Uhadi went on a successful US Tour again In 2016
The tour commenced on 30 March to 18 April.
On 30 April 2016’s International Jazz Day 2016 McCoy launched his DVD that was recorded live the same day and for the same occasion in SA 2015 at the Market Theatre.
In 2017 McCoy toured South Africa with Mark Hauser a fellow saxophonist from Switzerland whom he met Basel when he toured Switzerland In 2015.
This year 2018 McCoy and Paul Hanmer , he’s long time friend are celebrating 30 years of friendship and collaborative work in music and have been performing around SA and they also toured USA In October performing , conducting master classes and workshops at some of the higher institutions like Berklee and UCLA.
McCoy Is about to release “ Brasskap Sessions Volume 3 “ of which he’s been recording since December 2017 In Johannesburg , Cape Town and In Paris.
McCoy Mrubata Discography
Fire Bird 1989
Tears Of Joy 1997
Phosa Ngasemva 1999
Hoelykit ? 2000
Face The Music 2002
The Best Of The Early Year 2004
Icamagu Livumile 2004
Brasskap Sessions Volume 1 2007
The Very Best Of 2010
Brasskap Sessions Volume 2 2014
Live At The Bird’s Eye 2016
Live At The Market Theatre 2016
Sheer All Stars
Live At The Blues Room 2001
Dance With Me 2002
McCoy and Wessel van Rensburg
McCoy & Greg Georgiades 2004
McCoy & Paul Hanmer 2011
McCoy & Moses Ngwenya 2012
Awards and honours
1991 : Gilby’s Music For Africa winner
5 time winner of the South African Music Award winner for the “Best Jazz Album” category
2010 : Angola COCAN Africa Cup Of Nations Competition Ambassador
2018 : Winner of the Kenny Center Gold Medal Award