Billy Monama is a versatile musician from South Africa who is renowned for his skills as a guitarist, composer, bandleader, author, arranger, producer, and educator. He founded The Grazroots Project and is known for his South African Jazz music, though he transcends musical styles, to label him a jazz musician would be to limit his world. He discovered his love for music through the guitar in 1997 and he still love strumming.
In 1997, Monama was drawn to a guitar belonging to a neighbour. Largely self-taught, Monama immediately showed signs of natural talent on guitar. Billy’s interests were broader than music. After completing his schooling, he moved to Pretoria and enrolled for a course in Political Science. However, the musical calling proved to be much stronger, so he moved to Johannesburg and impulsively enrolled at a music institution after being told about it by a musician who convinced him of a need to study music. Monama moved to Soweto, Diepkloof south of Johannesburg in the early 2000s to study at Central Johannesburg College is where he began to understand more about music harmony, performance and leading an ensemble.
During that period of self-discovery, he was also exploring other voices within the Jazz idiom. He speaks fondly of musicians like Wes Montgomery, Barney Kassel, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, George Benson and many more.
Billy was also involved in a church music group who performed mainly traditional African music, which meant that the African sound continued to be a strong part of his voice. His South African influences include Marks Mankwane, Jimmy Dludlu, General Duze, Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo and many others. Billy has developed a great sense of melody and creates catchy tunes without compromising on depth. He admits to being influenced by non-musical surroundings, which then inform his music. He might have strong jazz influences but is pushing boundaries all the time, incorporating many different musical cultures into his work.
Monama has also performed and recorded with the following South African musicians and groups:
- Pianist and prolific composer and arranger, Themba Mkhize
- International acclaimed bassist, composer and arranger, Victor Ntoni.
- Abdullah Ibrahim with the New South African Jazz Orchestra
- Internationally acclaimed pianist, Andile Yenana.
- South African multi-award-winning pop group, Malaika
- Statesmen of South African Music: Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Mbongeni Ngema, Sibongile Khumalo, Dorothy Masuku, Thandi Klassen Jonas Gwangwa, Abigail Kubeka and many others.
- Monama also performed with the award-winning and the fourth generation of African Jazz – Thandiswa Mazwai, Gloria Bosman and Siphokazi
Bandleader, Producer & Composer
During his musical journey, Billy Monama, as a composer, recording artist and bandleader has already performed at a number of important events:
- Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, 2016
- Collaborative performance with US saxophonist Dave Koz
- Collaboration with Denise Jannah – singer, actor and educator (Netherlands)
- Promusica Theatre’s Summer Jazz & Blues Weekend, 2009
- South African State Theatre African Nights & Jazz, 2010
- Cape Town International Jazz Festival, 2018
- Performed for two nights at the Market Theatre for the Jazzy July series launch, 2018.
- Swaziland Luju Food Wine, and Lifestyle – 2019
- Curated & Directed Guitar Summit dedicated to Themba Mokoena at The Spectacular Concerts 2022
- Two Nights concert at Market Theatres Jazzy July, 2022
- Back To The Future concert at The Joburg Theatre – 2023
In 2009, he worked with internationally acclaimed musical directors Themba Mkhize and Concord Nkabinde in a South African Jazz Education musical theatre show, CRAZY FOR JAZZ: Our Journey Through Music, directed by James Ngcobo and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma.
Billy works well under the leadership of other musicians while also being a great leader in the making. He leads his own band and has been entrusted with musical directorship for big professional projects by companies such as the Vuyani Dance Company. Since 2015, he has directed music for:
- Rain Dance, choreographed by Luyanda Sidiya, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, 2015
- Gregory Maqoma & Friends: a 25-year celebration in dance featuring Sibongile Khumalo, Somizi Mhlongo, David Tlale, 2015
- In her Shoes, 2016
- Dark City, 2016
In 2016, Monama conceived the Grazroots Project, a very much exciting and needed project set out to revive History and re-connect us with our South African Musical Heritage in order to give birth to a new soundtrack that will carry us into the Future, as a Nation.
Following research that was conducted by Billy Monama (a Performing Artist, Composer, Arranger & Guitar Teacher), the birth of the GRAZROOTS Project had to happen, as Monama
realized how the legacy of our uniquely South African guitar styles was fast disappearing. Not
only was it the voice of the Guitar that was dying away, but a whole generation of Musical
Culture & Life-Style stood a chance of being completely wiped out. This is the sound that
touched the world and gave us a Voice through trying times in our history. This is the sound of
Mbaqanga, Mgqashiyo, Maskanda, African Jazz and more.
In going back to our Roots and digging out the inspiration that nourished the people on the
ground, Billy Monama invited some well-established and respected musicians to collaborate on
reviving and preserving this musical Art-form that kept the people singing through the
difficult socio-political times in the history of South Africa. Collectively, these musicians have
vast experience as Band Leaders, Session Musicians, Composers, Arrangers, Music Educators
- Themba Mokoena (Guitar)
- McCoy Mrubata (Saxophones/Flute)
- Lwanda Gogwana (Trumpet/FlugelHorn)
- Mduduzi Mtshali (Piano)
- Concord Nkabinde (Bass Guitar)
- Paki Peloeole (Drums)
The GRAZROOTS Project revisits Old South African Classics; celebrates past South African
Composers & Musicians. The presentation is vibrant and engaging, making sure the music is
suitable for all types of audiences. Every performance will have a surprise guest Artist or two
in order to keep the performances always fresh and unpredictable. Previous featured guest Artist:
Siphokazi, Khaya Mahalangu, Nomfundo Xaluva, Lindiwe Maxolo and Sipho Hotsix Mabuse.
The Grazroots Project has already performed at a number of important events:
In the words of the upbeat highly inspired Billy Monama, “We want to recreate that authentic sound through a fresh and young energy.”
In 2016, Billy Monama and Andy Innes released their album Brothers, a collection of original pieces written and arranged for the acoustic guitar in traditional styles. In October 2017, Billy released his debut album REBOUNCE, which plays like his autobiography, revisits the old South African classics and celebrates past South African composers and musicians.
In 2017, added to the mix is Billy’s fresh take on some South African folk songs that serve as a link between the past, through the present, into our future. Billy strongly believes that we need to reflect meaningfully on the past to gain a clearer perception of the future and that we are surrounded by mirrors whose depths reflect where we come from and the roots of our identity. ‘Why then are we ignoring the sounds of the great masters?’ he asks.
REBOUNCE attempts to echo and pay tribute to those musical masters who have flavoured Monama’s developing artistry. In this album, he reflects on guitarists of influence, such as Nicholas Ntuli, Vivian Ngubane, Marks Mankwane, Patrick Ncube, Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Allen Kwela, Jimmy Dludlu, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Themba Mokoena, Pat Martino and other creative voices including Sibongile Khumalo, Salif Keita, Themba Mkhize, Ella Fitzgerald, Hugh Masekela, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and many others who contributed towards the early South African musical sound of mbaqanga, marabi and other jazz idioms. Billy’s wish is that you will engage, enjoy and find yourself in the music of REBOUNCE.
Instead, Billy sees himself as part of the new generation of South African musicians who want to take the music of the African continent to greater heights – musicians who have a strong understanding of the local sound yet have global aspirations. Billy Monama has facilitated and directed tutorials, masterclasses and workshops at the following music institutions:
- Wits University, 2017 and 2018
- University of KwaZulu Natal, 2017
- Central Johannesburg College, 2017
- University of Pretoria, 2017
- Tshwane School of Music, 29 March 2019
- 3-day Youth Development Outreach and Music Tutorial programme from 11-13 September 2019 at Kgatelopele Primary School, Modutlwa Street, Soweto. This initiative was produced by the Soweto Theatre
- 3-day Workshop at the Soweto Theatre in partnership with the City of Jo’burg in 2020.
- In 2021, he hosted a ‘South African Guitar Styles – The 5-Day Experience’ workshop in partnership with the City of Johannesburg as part of their Youth Month programme.
- Conducted a masterclass with the University of South African Francisco & Los Angeles – 2022
- Hosted and produced The South African Music Education Colloquium in 2022
- Brothers released in 06 April 2016Rio
- Rebounce released in 27 October 2017 Maputo
Published Book/s: Introduction to South African Guitar Styles Vol.1 – Five Decades of uKuvamba (1930-1980s)
Tutorials videos: Ever-passionate about taking South African guitar to greater heights, Billy, in 2020, released a series of tutorial videos under the same title as this book – a long-awaited project that demonstrates the different styles of South African guitar in 7 chapters: Maskanda, African Jazz, The Development of the Jazz Guitar, African Jazz Post – 1960s, Kwela, Mbaqanga and xiTsonga.
Film scoring: Manamaco-composedmusic for South Africa’ best telenovela, The River. Television music feature on Kyknet – Arendsvlei, SABC 2 – Forever Young. Mzanzi Magic – The Road and iSithembiso
Brand endorsements: Billy’s greatest highlight of 2021 was receiving a fully paid endorsement deal from Gibson, Sennheiser, Elixir Strings, and Orange Amps.
Accolades: The University of Southern California, Los Angeles and Northern Texas presented Monama with the Distinguished Lecture certificate for contributing knowledge, wisdom, and exemplary teaching to the 2022 International Collegiate Guitar Ensemble Festival.
Contact & Bookings: