Mr. Theo Bophela, Legendary Jazz musician was born on March 15, 1931 in Estcourt (Esiphangweni). His mother died when he was only 2 years old, and his father passed away five years later, leaving him as an orphan to be raised by his grandmother in Cator Manor. His first exposure to music was in church when he was still living with his parents.
He was immersed in a wide variety of musical genres from a very young age. Bophela’s passion and love for cord music in general led him to learn the basics from Patrick J. Chambers.
After obtaining his senior certificate, a job at a radio repair workshop and exposure to jazz legends inspired him to take piano lessons and he has never looked back. The great breakthrough for Theo came in 1955 when he performed in an Africa Jazz and Variety show.
During his professional career, he worked with Tom Ndaba’s Swingsters Jazz Band, Chromatic Jazz Band, Keynotes Jazz Group, Theo Bophela Trios & Quartets Jazz Resurrection Orchestra among others. Theo, as a band leader, composer, pianist, arranger, music educator and director, performed in Athens, Holland, Australia and New Zealand and conducted ‘Soweto Jive’ workshops in Alkmaar, Holland with the late Sophie Mgcina and Timothy Ndaba. He has also written orchestral works for performance by the KZN Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra with Ngwelo Afrika Jazz Group.
When he is not sharing his wealth of musical knowledge, he is involved in fund-raising efforts at Masisizane Centre, a communal collective for senior citizens of Inanda. Today, Bophela continues to inspire young student performers and artists, passing on his passion for jazz and love of musicianship.
Some of his achievements include being part of Gibson Kente music production “Manana the Jazz Prophet”, achieving 19 distinctions at the age of 79, Formed Nqwelo Africa jazz group including students and seasoned musicians’ mentorship (6 piece band + female vocalist), Received a hall of fame award for “outstanding contribution for a lifetime of music”. Also directed the musical play “Madiba’s Farewell” at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg
He was a member of the KZN Arts and Culture Council, a member of the Social Transformation Sub-Comittee, an ex-member of Board of Directors for South African Recording Rights Association Limited (SARAL), an active member of South African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO), Composer, Arranger, Band Leader, Pianist, Music Director/Educator and Orchestrator. He presently lives in Inanda, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal with his wife and youngest son of his four children.
He passed away at his home in Inanda, north of Durban, in November 2017, after a battle with diabetes.