Mogauwane Mahloele was born in Storomo and raised in Mamelodi ya Tshwane, South Africa. He is accomplished in both the making and playing of African (Alkebulan) drums, entoros (mouth harps), dipelas (kalimbas), nakas, flutes, sekeres and makhoyames (bowed instruments with gourd resonators.) He is also a sculptor and painter.
Craftsmanship and musicianship—often seen as different disciplines here—were entwined in his upbringing. As the son of a musical family (with parents who themselves were children of musicians), he was watched closely as a child to see what talents he might have. His elders taught him not only how to play eight instruments, but also how to make them. It is through this intimate knowledge that he came to understand that the instruments themselves “dictate knowledge” to the musician: “If I had built a drum and carved it—from scratch—even when it’s standing in the corner… it’s waiting for me to play it and make sense out of it…. Even before you can play, it already… is talking to you, so there is that relationship back and forth…. Not only do I make drums… I come from a background where in order to know how to play this you also have to know how to make it. So you have a total relationship with that instrument.”
In 1975, Mr. Mahloele left a family and a country that he loved, knowing that if he stayed, his life would be “wasted” in jail, where his close friends were incarcerated during the apartheid years. He has now been in exile nineteen years. He has chosen not to live in fear and has vowed “not to negate the very strong things” he was raised with. In Philadelphia, he makes his living teaching music and performing. In the absence of other musicians from South Africa, he has begun to nurture an ensemble of diverse African and African American musicians, teaching them traditional music and his own compositions. Mr. Mahloele performs widely – from Germany to California, and from Turkey to France, in many styles. He has performed and collaborated with such artists as Homer Jackson, Khan Jamal, Odean Pope, Robert Crowder, Alfie Pollitt, Byard Lancaster, Dudu Phukwana, Phillip Tabane, Joe Malinga, Hugh Masekela and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Mr. Mahloele has received grants from The Pew Fellowships in th Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and has worked with the Folklore Project in arts education residencies, “Philly Dance Africa,” “Artists in Exile,” and “Folk Arts of Social Change.”