Dan Chiorboli

Percussionist and producer Dan Chiorboli was born in Ferrara, Italy in July 1955 and grew up in Durban, South Africa.

Pursuing his love for music inherited from his grandmother, he received his first taste of performing in front of an audience at the age of fifteen in his tutor and mentor Jim Bailey’s big band Cannon (in the Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago style). He then went on to join Durban percussion group Interitmo and subsequently developed his technique further when he joined iconic pianist Joe Delew in his Brazilian Project. The group supported Dan’s idol, Brazilian Airto Moreira in his South African tour, an event which proved to be an unforgettable and humbling learning experience which made an indelible impression in his approach to music for the rest of his life. This was a catalyst for Dan and Airto to embark on a friendship which lasts to this day.

He has performed as a musician all over the world and has worked on over 200 albums, as vastly diverse as Neill Solomon and The Uptown Rhythm Dogs, Ray Phiri and The African Gypsies feat Phil Manzanera, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Kenyan Simba Morri, Roger Lucey and James Phillips (aka Bernoldus Niemand). On the live front, Dan has opened for Ginger Baker, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joe Cocker amongst others.

Exploring his beloved Latin and Brazilian themes, he wrote, directed and performed in three vibrant and successful musical revues (Sounds of Brazil, Latin Heat and Island Rhythms) with the Joe Delew Brazilian Project at The Durban Playhouse in the nineties. Following on from these successes, he co-founded the 16-piece Los Cucarachos, an exciting Latin showband in the Irakere and Tito Puente tradition which became popular with Latin ballroom dancing aficionados.

In 2002, Dan and Brazilian rock guitarist Sergio Dias Baptiste, (from the legendary group Os Mutantes) wrote and produced the CD Song of the Leopard, which fused South African and Brazilian music styles. The group launched the album at the Guinness Jazz Festival in Johannesburg and performed at the Rock in Rio Festival in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2009, Dan co-founded the African Gypsies with Ray Phiri, which also included Gito Baloi & Concord Nkabinde and featured Roxy Music / Pink Floyd guitarist and producer Phil Manzanera as a special guest. Besides South Africa, the group played on the WOMAD circuit of Festivals in Spain, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.

In 2009, together with explorer and adventurer Kingsley Holgate, Dan conceptualised and produced the musical aspect and concert finale of the Boundless Southern Africa expedition, a massive event aimed at maximising awareness of the seven Transfrontier Conservation Areas as tourist and investment destinations. The music focused mostly on indigenous styles in the areas linked by the game parks, which besides South Africa included Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. The entire expedition and musical component was covered by National Geographic Travel.

In 2013, in something completely different, Dan was invited to perform with the Soul Brothers’ Black Moses Ngwenya and a classical orchestra for DJ Black Coffee’s extravaganza at Moses Mabhida Stadium, a concert that was filmed for a DVD and shown on national TV.

However, it is his collaborations with Neill Solomon, a friendship that goes back to school days, which have yielded most of his significant musical achievements. In 1979 they formed the influential Uptown Rhythm Dogs, arguably the first South African band to incorporate world music styles into a mainstream rock genre. The albums The Occupant, Magic Man and Rule of the Swallow yielded a number of radio hits, namely Roxy Lady and The Stranger amongst others. The group played extensively around South Africa and supported American singer-songwriter Janis Ian on her national tour. Dan also produced Neill’s critically acclaimed debut solo album Gathering of the Beasts, a powerful and sonically diverse set of songs based around an environmental and conservation theme.

The pair also wrote and produced two successful CD’s for The Sharks rugby team, including the anthemic stadium song We are Black, We are White which still receives airplay to this day. For the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa, Dan and Neill were commissioned to write and produce Durban’s official World Cup song Smile which featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Madala Kunene, Syd Kitchen, Shanjeet Teeluck and a multi-cultural cast of some of Durban’s finest musicians. In 2016, following up on interest from fans to reform The Uptown Rhythm Dogs, the pair brought out the eclectic, multi styled and well received Different Places, and called this new lineup (which included Guinean kora master N’Faly Kouyate and Reunionaise accordion maestro Rene Lacaille) The Uptown Rhythm Collective.

The Liberation Project is a collaboration that focuses on traditional and newly penned songs of freedom from South Africa, Italy, Cuba and France. It also includes a song from the island of Reunion. It honours those comrades that were brave enough to fight against all odds for their desired freedom leaving a musical legacy as a constant reminder of the price of freedom. The common thread to the project is Dan himself, who, having been born in Ferrara and grown up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, is all too familiar with the struggle that occurred on his door step. His passion for music and both countries led to a strong desire to collaborate with artists from South Africa, Italy, Cuba and France as well as contributions from Reunion, Guinea and Burundi to produce an album representing these cultures and their independent journeys to liberation. The triple album, entitled Songs that Made Us Free is produced by Neill Solomon, Dan Chiorboli and Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music & Pink Floyd) and includes some seventy musicians from 17 different countries, including Juan de Marcos Gonzales from the Buena Vista Social Club, N’Faly Kouyate from the Afro-Celt Sound System and Steve van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Songs that made us Free is due to be launched in South Africa in April 2018 at the Nelson Mandela Theatre in Johannesburg with follow up concerts in Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, Reunion, the UK and Cuba.

Ironically, despite his accomplishments as a musician, it is as the founder of Awesome Africa, the multi-dimensional and pioneering “World Music” Festival (that has featured 191 Pan-African and International artists from 29 countries, as well as 574 South African artists) since 1999 to date that Dan is probably best known. Besides the Awesome Africa Festival events, he has also worked as a producer / conceptualizer on Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festival in South Africa, the Guinness Jazz Festival, produced the artistic component in all three of Durban’s FIFA World Cup Fan Parks in 2010, the FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw, Indian Ocean Jazz Festival, Artists Against Apartheid, Rock Against Racism, Indian Ocean Music Network, Living Treasures Millennium Celebrations, BET (Black Entertainment Television USA) Jazz Festival, Rock da Beach, ANC Freedom Charter 50 year Celebration and the Boundless Southern Africa Festival. He was also a consultant for the South African contingent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2007.

Dan served as Vice President on the board of the Indian Ocean Music Alliance (IOMA). The members of this alliance were Festival Directors from all the Indian Ocean linked countries.

In the corporate business world, Dan enjoyed a successful career with Bidvest Waltons, where he became renowned as an innovator and motivator in his field. He gained vast experience of managing and motivating a large sales work force and being responsible for large budgets.

Currently, Dan serves on the Boards of Childline KZN, the late Ray Phiri’s Art Institute and the Inhluzane Arts Trust, all non-profit institutions.


Written by Samantha Pollecutt.

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