Growing up surrounded by the soulful hymns of the Zion Church, the chants and rhythms of traditional healers, McCoy Mrubata‘s musical roots developed early on in Cape Town, South Africa. Starting out on the flute before graduating to the saxophone, learning the good ‘ol fashioned way from local musical greats, Mrubata has risen to become one of the country’s most decorated saxophone players.
For someone this accomplished in his music career, we’re honored to have the enthralling, Africann-inspired sounds of Mrubata’s saxophone available for everyone to make music with, and you won’t find them anywhere else.
Go behind the Loops with the award-winning McCoy Mrubata as he talks to us about his music, the influence of African music, and his first ever Loop pack exclusively available on BandLab’s Mix Editor.
Find out: How do I use Loop Packs?
When did you start playing the saxophone?
I started playing the saxophone in 1980, after graduating from playing the pennywhistle and flute. I’m not formally trained and I learned by mimicking songs playing on the radio and from my family’s record collection. I also learned from older musicians and friends who were more advanced than me.
I have worked with some of South Africa’s great musicians and touring the world with them, Hugh Masekela, Lucky Dube, Ray Phiri, PJ Powers and Stimela to name a few.
Internationally, I have worked with Joe McBride, Airto Moreira from Brasil, Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Orchestra, Purbayan Chatergee from India.
I hope the sample pack and saxophone samples will bring an African element In people’s music.
What have been the career highlights so far?
Some of my music career highlights were performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Lucky Dube, appearing at the Lincoln Center and sharing a stage with Wynton Marsalis and touring with my long time friend Paul Hanmer in 2018, celebrating our 30 year anniversary as music collaborators and friends.
But also, you’ve won plenty of awards, tell us about those…
I have won seven SAMA’s (South African Music Awards), a Kennedy Center Gold Award In 2018. I was one of the ambassadors for the 2010 African Nation Cup that was held in Angola.
What have been the main influence for your music?
I think my saxophone style is very South African, influenced by my teachers: Ezra Ngcukana, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Robbie Jansen and Robert Sithole.
My music writing is influenced by my experiences growing up until now and absorbing South African traditional music, African jazz, Mbaqanga, Ghouma music, pop and American jazz. I try hard not to suppress what comes naturally, which is the African melodies, rhythms and nuances when I compose music. Sometimes we get tempted to polish our music too much and that might mean taking out the African element out of it.
What advice would you give to people starting in music?
My advice for upcoming musicians is to be open-minded, try to listen to all kinds of music and try to learn as many styles as they as this will help widen their scope as far as their musicality Is concerned.
When I was starting out, my inspirations were my teachers, some of them mentioned above and the great South African bands like Spirits Rejoice, Pacific Express, Kwela Kids, Skyf, Drive, Bloodshed and many others. Attending as many music performances as possible was another way of learning music as we didn’t have music institutions in the black communities at the time.
I also learned a great deal from the bands I worked with when I turned professional as a musician: Fever, Touch, Airborne, Vukani and Louis And The Jive. My advice for upcoming musicians is to be open-minded, try to listen to all kinds of music and try to learn as many styles as they as this will help widen their scope as far as their musicality Is concerned.
Is this the first sample pack you have made? What do you hope people will get from it?
Yes, this is the first sample pack I’ve featured on. I hope the sample pack and saxophone samples will bring an African element In people’s music.
Read more: Behind the Loops: Jon Sterckx