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Julian Bahula, who died on 1 October, was an extraordinary musician, who pioneered the use of music in anti-apartheid campaigning. Julian organised the Africa Sounds concert at Alexandra Palace in London in 1983 to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 65th birthday. His band Jabula performed at venues all over Britain, showcasing African music and inspiring opposition to apartheid.

David Kenvyn writes:

Julian Bahula was an extraordinary person in so many ways.   He was one of the generation of jazz musicians that emerged in South Africa in the 1950s, that included Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dudu Pukwana, Joan Gwangwa, Dorothy Radebe, Abigail Kubeka and so many others.   Julian played the malombo drums with an amazing skill and dexterity.   His music was always joyous.   As a musician, he was inspirational.

But Julian was more than a drummer.  He was a warrior in the struggle against apartheid.   He used his music as a weapon in that struggle.   When he came into exile in the UK in 1973, aged 35, he very quickly formed his band, Jabula, which in 1977 combined with Dudu Pukwana’s band to become Jabula Spear.   Both Jabula and Jabula Spear performed at venues across the country, promoting the anti-apartheid cause, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.   

Julian was also a tireless promoter of African music.   It was Julian who organised the first gigs by Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Fela Kuti in this country.  It was Julian who wrote the music for Basil Davidson’s documentary series, Africa.   It was Julian who, along with the Anti-Apartheid Movement, organised the African Sounds concert at Alexandra Palace in London to celebrate the 65th birthday of Nelson Mandela, attended by some 3,000 people.   This was the concert that brought Nelson Mandela to the attention of the music world, at a time when Margaret Thatcher was attempting to bring apartheid South Africa “in from the cold”.

It was Julian’s music that inspired a young musician called Jerry Dammers to write a song called “Free Nelson Mandela”.   It was Julian’s inspiration that set a ball rolling, culminating in the Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley on 11th June 1988, South African Political Prisoners Day.   That concert, and the Nelson Mandela Freedom March, which set out from Glasgow the next day, were extraordinarily important events in helping to secure the release of Nelson Mandela.  The concert was organised by Artists Against Apartheid, set up by Jerry Dammers and Dali Tambo with an enormous amount of help from Julian.

Julian was a pivotal figure in organising the cultural opposition to apartheid.   This was recognised in 2012 when Julian was awarded the Ikhamanga Gold Medal for his role in that struggle.

He died peacefully on the morning of Sunday 1st October, with his wife by his side.   Our condolences go to his wife and family.

Hamba Kahle, Julian Bahula – a hero of the heroes.