With the death of pennywhistle and alto saxophone player and record producer West Nkosi, in October 1998, from injuries sustained in an auto crash, South Africa lost one its true musical visionaries. While his playing was a major factor in the early-'60s success of Spokes Mashiyane and His All Star Flutes, Nkosi made his greatest impact as a producer. In addition to producing internationally released albums by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mahalthini and the Mahotella Queens, he oversaw recordings by Abofane Base Ohudeni, Patience Afrika, Mpharanyane With the Cannibals Featuring Ray Phiri and Mnca Mtshali, Amaswazi Emvelo, Shoe Laces, Moses Mchunu, O'Yaba, Mfaz' Omnyama, Phuzekhemisi, Joe Mafela, and Johnny Mokholi. In a statement delivered shortly after his death, Neil Greenberg, a spokesperson for the Gallo record label, said, "Every twist of Nkosi's rather erratic and splendid process through life and music has been earmarked by a succession of extraordinary and innovative albums produced for various groups."
Nkosi launched his musical career in the late-'50s as a member of kwela (pennywhistle) band the Pretoria Tower Boys. Relocating to Johannesburg, he was invited to join the top-notch kwela band, Spokes Mashiyane and His All Star Flutes. When the popularity of the pennywhistle began to fade, he bought a used saxophone with money he earned as a domestic worker. A much-sought session player, Nkosi began to work closely with producer Rupert Bopape. Under Bopape's guidance, Nkosi helped to pioneer the harder-edged offshoot of kwela, mbanqanga. When Bopape reunited Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens in 1984, Nkosi was recruited as the group's producer. Three years later, he toured with Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. ~ Craig Harris