One of the country’s finest guitarists, Themba Mokoena was taught to play the instrument by an elder brother, Jotang ‘Joko Tea’ Mokoena. He started playing professionally in the sixties with marabi and jazz bands such as Sobantu Strangers and Black Magic. His primary inspiration was Wes Montgomery. He later joined the Durban Expressions, a jazz combo that toured extensively and relocated to Johannesburg in 1972.
A famous Durban-based band alongside Dalton Khanyile’s Rhythm Aces, the Durban Expressions included in its all-star line-up Bheki Mseleku (piano), Victor Gaba (bass), Bruce Mwandla (drums) and Aubrey Thabethe (guitar and vocals). On his arrival in Johannesburg in 1972 Mokoena’s guitar playing skills caught the attention of father of township theatre, Gibson Kente.
He performed as a guitarist in most of Kente’s plays – ironically with the exception of his most famous production, How Long? He performed at Soweto’s famous cabaret club, The Pelican and later recorded with Jacob ‘Mpharanyana’ Radebe as a member of the great soul singer’s backing band, the Peddlers. The Pelican band consisted of leader and keyboardist Mac Mathunjwa, Godfrey Mgcina (drums), Bakithi Khumalo (bass) and the late Teaspoon Ndelu (sax).
Mokoena also backed seventies soul songstress, Patience Afrika and recorded with her on Rupert Bopape’s Mavuthela Records, a Gallo black subsidiary which also recorded West Nkosi, Makgona Tsohle Band, Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens. With the demise of township soul and jazz in the late seventies, Mokoena performed mainly as a session artist.
In recent times he has toured and performed with Sibongile Khumalo in overseas gigs in countries such as Israel and Switzerland. He is revered by young musicians as a great guitarist and has mentored a younger generation of jazz artists such as Jimmy Dludlu and Selaelo Selota.
– Mbheka Phesheya (Sheer Sound, 2004). Vocal powerhouse Phinda Mtya delivers some soulful, heritage music in the tradition of Xhosa folk songs. With Themba Mokoena (electric guitar), Steve Dyer (horns), Themba Mkhize (acoustic piano), Fana Zulu (bass), Herbie Tsoaeli (bass), Tlale Makhene (percussion) and Mark Fransman (keyboards