Biographies of the Main Players

Neill Solomon (South Africa) is a multiple award-winning film and television soundtrack composer, songwriter and musician. He is well known for his pioneering work in the rock and world music fields with groups such as The Uptown Rhythm Dogs and The Passengers. Neill has since scored many internationally recognized films and theatre productions such as the acclaimed Jock of the Bushveld, Gavin Hood’s A Reasonable Man and John Kani’s award winning production Nothing but The Truth. He won a 2010 Safta Award for best composition in Television and is currently scoring the daily South African soap Isidingo.

Phil Manzanera (Cuba/England) encountered his first guitar aged six in Cuba. His earliest musical accomplishments were Cuban folk songs inspired by the Cuban Revolution. He has gone on to achieve worldwide fame as a renowned record producer with many diverse artists, including Diamanda Galas, David Gilmour and Pink Floyd. He has been the lead guitarist with Roxy Music for over thirty years, and has maintained his own Cuban influenced band Latino 801 as a side project. In 1998, he wrote and presented a series of 14 one-hour radio programmes for station Planet Rock entitled The A-Z of Great Guitarists. Phil Manzanera recently returned to Havana (the city where he first began learning the guitar, aged 6 years old), to play a concert with Jack Bruce, the legendary bassist and singer from Cream. David Gilmour (from Pink Floyd) recently presented Phil with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Latin-UK Awards (LUKAS), which recognised his commitment to Latin American musical styles.

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse (South Africa) is much more than one of South Africa’s most admired and respected musicians; he is a gentle living legend. Today, after close on 50 years of musical accomplishment and history behind him, Mabuse’s influence on the industry that gave him his voice continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Fiercely proud and keen to share his wealth of knowledge, he is passionate about having the youth look, learn and respect the veterans of what makes this country great. “Our elders, parents and forefathers need to be respected and heard for their contribution,” he explains. “If we look and listen, we can only continue to grow.” In fact, throughout the course of Mabuse’s near 50-year career, he has become a musical ambassador for South Africa, performing in virtually every country in Africa and touring to places such as the United States, England, France, Germany and Italy.

Juan de Marcos (Cuba) is an artist at the heart of Cuban musical expression as a musician, writer, director and producer. He is a cultural ambassador and icon of present day Cuba. Unmistakably De Marcos delivers this rich heritage to the world by meticulously assembling many of Cuba’s musical legends and today’s prominent musicians in spite of history, politics or ideological indoctrination. He remains a steadfast envoy of authentic Cuban music forms, the wave on which all music structured around its patented rhythms rides. He was the man behind the Buena Vista Social Club, the leader of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Sierra Maestra.

Dan Chiorboli (South Africa/Italy) was born in Ferrara, Italy and grew up in Durban, South Africa. Pursuing his love for music inherited from his mother and grandmother, he received his first taste of performing in front of an audience at the age of fifteen. He has gone on to perform all over the world and has worked as a session musician on over 200 albums, as vastly diverse as The African Gypsies (the group he co-founded with Ray Phiri), Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Kenyan Simba Morri, Sergio Dias from Brazil, Black Coffee and Black Moses Ngwenya. But it is his partnership on projects with Neill Solomon from a very early age that has yielded the best fruits.

Stefano “Cisco” Bellotti (Italy) was passionate about music and Italian cultural heritage from a very young age, inspired by artists like Francesco Guccini, Lucio Dalla, and Fabrizio De André. While still at high school, he became conscientized to the struggle for human rights around the world, honing in specifically to the Italian partisans fight for freedom and the message of Nelson Mandela and the ANC in exile. His band, The Modena City Ramblers charted his course to international success on the back of material that entertained and stirred sentiments of resistance. Over the course of their 13-year career, the Ramblers drew from diverse influences including the music of Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, sharing their leftist fan base with politically conscious international artists like Manu Chao. One if his highlights was an emotional tour of South Africa, where he vowed to create closer links to the music and its people.

N’Faly Kouyaté (Guinea) is a multi-talented artist coming from a deeply traditional background. He has received several intercultural awards but his most treasured is the ‘Talent of Guinea’ which he received in Paris in March, 2015. Due to his dexterity and elegance in his impassioned playing of the kora, N’Faly Kouyaté became known as the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the kora’ and the face of the world renowned Afro Celt Sound System. He is an artist of great depth and commitment and has been engaged in many humanitarian projects in Guinea. His music invites us to dance, but the lyrics are far from frivolous, addressing subjects such as Xenophobia, AIDS, the sale of arms, abuse of power and the change that each of us needs to make in our spiritual lives.

Roberto Formignani (Italy) started studying the guitar in Ferrara at the age of 12 with a passion for jazz and blues. Now recognised as Italy’s finest exponent of the blues with his unique dobro, pedal steel and slide technique, his signature sound has fused Italian music styles with the old bluesmen of the Mississippi delta. In 1980 he founded The Mannish Blues Band, which developed into The Bluesmen, a group with which he has participated in many television and radio broadcasts, as well as festivals all over Europe. In 2000 he became president of the Musicians Association of Ferrara – School of Modern Music, with the main focus on identifying and developing youth talent from disadvantaged communities.

Tony Cedras (South Africa) was born in Elsie’s River, Cape Province. The last of eight children in a strict household that placed high emphasis on education and religion. He soon became one of the central figures in the Cape jazz scene performing and recording with Winston Mankunku, Jonathan Butler, Robbie Jansen, Basil Moses and Russell Herman. He has gone on to perform with Paul Simon, Jonas Gwangwa, Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cassandra Wilson, Hugh Masekela, Ziggy Marley, Joan Baez, Milton Nascimento Tony Bird and Gigi. He has been in every lineup of Paul Simon’s Graceland band since 1987.

Sergio Dias (Brazil), the leader of renowned Brazilian tropicalista innovators Os Mutantes also contributes his unique vocal and guitar prowess on Shosholoza, a traditional song which happened to be one of Nelson Mandela’s.

Steve van Zandt (USA) played an important role in South Africa’s struggle and was one of the first artists to use his profile as a voice against apartheid and for human rights causes around the world. In 1985 he released “We Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” and donated all the profits to the Oliver Tambo Foundation. He performs on a homage dedicated to him in the form of a powerful medley including Sun City, Solidarity, Under the Gun and Pretoria.

Keeran Eshwarlall (South Africa/India) was raised in a conservative Hindu home in Verulam. He specialises in singing Bhajans (Devotional poetry), Gazals (Romantic poetry), Qawalis (Urdu poetry), Sufi songs, & the odd Bhojpuri song whilst accompanying himself on harmonium, guitar, santoor, tabla, dolak, shai baja and harmonica. In 1993, Keeran went to Bombay to learn under the guidance of his Guru, Shri Anup Jalota. In 2005, Keeran based himself in London and travelled all over the sub-continent to perform with many Indian musical icons recorded a musical documentary with Anup Jalota for Channel S TV, a UK Bengali Television Channel.

Tebogo AusTebza Sedumedi (South Africa) is a young up and coming bass player and vocalist whose music career began in the music department at the Mmabana Cultural & Arts Centre in Mafikeng. Her perseverance and hard work has attracted some of the most established artists in the South African music industry. Her talent has also been spotted by production teams that host various TV or Live Music concerts and as a result, has been part of the South African Music Awards and Channel O Awards, and also played her role as an instrumentalist on the TV productions of “The Respect Show with HHP” on SABC 1 and “Afro Café” on SABC 2.

Bienvenue N’Seka (Democratic Republic of Congo) is one of the DRC’s biggest kwassa kwassa stars and is now based in Johannesburg with refugee status. He has created a dedicated following with his Les Fantastique showband and his emotive French vocals, silky dance moves and distinctive guitar style has added a funky and exotic flavour to the Liberation Project.

Ray Phiri’s spirit shines throughout this project. He was a great friend of the producers and was involved in the early stages of the record but unfortunately passed into another world before he could complete his parts. The song The Mountain is dedicated to him, and besides co-writing and contributing guitar to it, he also receives special mentions on Chan Chan and Mundo con Paz.


Written by Samantha Pollecutt.

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