Zim Ngqawana has been hailed by Johannesburg's leading daily paper, The Star, as "The most visible, hardest working younger man in jazz." He is one of the new generation of South African musicians who are taking a fresh look at South Africa's jazz and traditional music heritage. Zim made his mark at the historic Inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in 1994, where he directed the 100 person 'Drums for Peace Ochestra', led an elite group of 12 Presidential drummers and featured as a solo saxophonist.
This recognition came after a late start and some tough struggles. Born in 1959 in Port Elizabeth (in South Africa's Eastern Cape), Zim was the youngest of five children who started playing flute at the age of 21. Although Zim was forced to drop out of school before completing university entrance requirements, his prowess won him a place at Rhodes University. He later went on to study for a diploma in Jazz Studies at the University of Natal.
Working with the University's ensemble, 'The Jazzanians', he attended International Association of Jazz Educators Convention in the United States and was offered scholarships to the Max Roach / Wynton Marsalis jazz workshop and subsequently a Max Roach scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, where he studied with jazz legends Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef.
Since his return to South Africa in the 1990's, he has worked in the bands of veteran greats like Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela. He has also developed much time and effort into building up a number of small and large combos from the conventional quartet/quintet including his eight-piece band 'Ingoma' through to the 'Drums for Peace Orchestra'.
Zim is committed to developing and creating an audience for new South African jazz, his music draws on influences ranging from South Africa's folk and rural traditions to Indian and western classical music and the avant-garde. Grounded in his South African roots, the music is strongly percussive, improvisational and highly danceable.
For this reason, theatre and dance companies have been drawn into his music. Zim directed a quintet and composed several new pieces for the Free Flight Dance Company during their world premiere. Subsequently, he was invited to accompany the Moving into Dance Company on their European tour as principal percussionist. He has made several festival appearances in South Africa, and in 1993 he appeared as the guest artist with Paul van Kemenade and his ensemble at the Tilburg Festival in front of a large and enthusiastic Dutch audience.