Legendary South African Musician Tony Cedras, famous worldwide for playing the accordion on the highly successful Paul Simon Graceland World Tour has passed away at the age of 71 on Monday 29 January 2024.
Highly underrated and sadly even unknown in many parts of his home country and even the town of his birth, Tony Cedras was a singer, songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist in a class of his own.
His work with Paul Simon on the Graceland Tour is also by far not his only claim to fame.
Tony Cedras was born in Elsies River on the Cape Flats on 18 July 1952 as the youngest of eight children. He began his life in music as a singer and accordion player in his local church youth choir and then he began playing the trumpet when he was at high school.
Tony Cedras got his first professional breakthrough from Pacific Express bass player Paul Abrahams. He joined the band as a trumpet player and keyboard player. When he left the country in the early 1980’s he made the best of the opportunities that made him famous across the rest of the world.
The Hero Unsung in His Hometown
When I briefly met him the very first time, we had been Facebook friends for a while. I then very presumptuously called him Uncle Tony, hoping that it would not be met with a rebuttal of “Wie’s jou uncle?”
I was safe. Uncle Tony gave me a pass.
I want to make it clear that I did not know Tony Cedras very well at all, at least not nearly as well as I would’ve liked to. I therefor ask in advance that you forgive me if you might find it disconcerting that I’m writing this little tribute article from somewhat of a personal perspective. I will be using the term “I” quite frequently in reference to my perspective, but this is ultimately not about me.
It’s about this Hero Who is Unsung in his Hometown.
As a young teen many, many years ago I learned who Tony Cedras was and that he was born in my hometown, Elsies River. Wow! Another name to add to the growing list I was compiling of high achievers who are from my hometown. Naturally I was always interested to learn more about his life and was always hoping to someday meet him.
As Much a Leader As He Was a Great Musician
Fast forward to this century. In between touring, Tony Cedras, whenever he was back on home soil, was noticeably working hard as an Indigenous People’s Rights Activists. His wife Tanya Kleinans-Cedras is a founder member of IRASA, the Institute for the Restoration of the Aborigines of South Africa; an organisation I became very much interested in, while at the time not knowing their connection to it.
I was now older.and as a writer, a student of our cultural heritage and as an arts activist, or like I love to say, an ARTivist, there were a few times that I had the pleasure of exchanging greetings and pleasantries with him and his wife at Indigenous Cultural events.
It was just never an opportunity to have a real conversation around his music career.
A Sharer of Knowledge & Wisdom
I finally got to hear Tony Cedras play live and was hoping for an opportunity to interact with him at the Music Exchange MEX16 seminar in 2016 where he was one of the main guest speakers along with another South African musical luminary Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse.
After his session being interviewed ‘On The Couch’ and even taking a few audience questions, he finished with an unforgettable solo accordion performance of Boy In A Bubble. That was already more than I expected, but there was more.
I, along with a few others, was very fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to sit down afterwards in the company of The Legendary Tony Cedras and soak up every little titbit of advice and every huge piece of wisdom he was dropping.
It was of course not like an interview or a press event. I was there as a musician and an arts activist being served knowledge.
I was since MEX16 always still hoping that I could someday have an opportunity to interview him one-on-one and hopefully share with others how important Tony Cedras is in terms of our Musical Heritage. Alas, he was genuinely extremely busy, jetting in and out of the country, performing internationally; mostly in the USA where he worked from.
Earlier today I got to chat with Martin Myers of Music Exchange to whom Tony Cedras was not just a music industry colleague but also a friend.
It seems that we are all still processing the fact that the Legendary Musician Tony Cedras has died.
It was during our short little chat that I realised how grateful I am to Martin and the Music Exchange team for making it possible that young musicians can have opportunities to directly interact with legends like the now late Tony Cedras.
I am of course also extremely grateful and still in awe that after a long session ‘On The Couch’ and his live performance at MEX16, on that particular day Tony Cedras was willing to spend some extra time talking to me and a few others and impart some wisdom on us.
Please forgive our grainy footage but the sound came out great
Honouring a Valuable Contribution to Our Musical Heritage
For artists and music lovers in my own community, and for the broader popullation, it is important that, preferably while they are still alive, we endevour to learn who the people are that shaped our artistic landscape and made valuable contributions to our musical heritage.
Sadly, I am now having to posthumously try and share with you that which I know of the Tony Cedras story.
In the late 1970’s Tony Cedras became well-known on the Cape Town music scene and in the early 1980’s he moved to Gaborone in Botswana where he became a member of the musical Amandla. He toured with them internationally and decided to stay in London where he got to know other expat and exiled South African musicians. In 1985, while in England he formed the group Kintone which built up quite a solid fan base and recorded two albums.
Tony Cedras returned to South Africa in 1986 and soon afterwards he started touring Africa with the Buwa Project headed by Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu. It was in 1987 on the Zimbabwe leg of the tour that he was invited to join Paul Simon’s tour band. Though he did not feature on the Grammy Award-winning Graceland album, Cedras was in every lineup of Paul Simon’s band from 1987 to 2012.
WATCH Paul Simon – Boy in a Bubble with Tony Cedras on Accordian
Aside from the Graceland Tour, Tony Cedras was also part of Paul Simon’s Born at the Right Time tour and then in 1993 appeared with Simon & Garfunkel in Concert of a Lifetime.
1993 also saw Cedras touring with Harry Belafonte and with Henry Threadgill in 1994.
It was also during this time that Tony Cedras released his first solo album, Vision Over People.
An Ardent Collaborator & Sought After Session Musician
Most famous for playing the accordion, Tony Cedras also played the harmonium, keyboard and guitar, and he of course continued to also play trumpet throughout his career.
In October 2018 he famously played trumpet in a live performance collaboration with Sipho Hotstix Mabuse at Mubuse’s concert in Cape Town, a show I had to miss due to having a gig of my own.
Tony Cedras performed or recorded, most often on accordion, with various well-known artists, including Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cassandra Wilson, Hugh Masekela, Tony Bird and Gigi.
Cedras has over the span of his career also worked with many renowned artists closer to home including Jonathan Butler, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Gloria Bosman, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Robbie Jansen, Russel Herman, and Basil Moses.
The Final Journey Home
It seemed as if Tony Cedras never really contemplated retiring from the live performance scene and I was in awe that in his late 60’s up to the age of 70 he was still regularly touring and performing internationally.
It was through a Facebook post by White Horse Black Mountain, an NPO-run Live Music Venue in the USA that Tony Cedras was involved in that I learned at the end of May 2023 that he was battling illness. A concert he was scheduled to perform in was then turned into a Benefit Concert for the ailing musician who was forced to cancel his upcoming concert dates in the USA.
After being hospitalised in the USA for the past 6 months since he was forced to cancel his concert tour, Tony Cedras returned home last week Thursday.
The Legendary Musician Tony Cedras has died on the morning of Monday 29 January 2024 at the age of 71 after a battle with chronic emphysema.
From myself, on behalf of our team at Bruinou.com and on behalf of our readers and followers, I hereby convey our sincerest condolences to his wife Tanya Kleinhans-Cedras and also to the family of Tony Cedras.
To the friends and colleagues of Tony Cedras, to his fans and supporters, music lovers, musicians and indigenous rights activists alike, I say the following.
A Giant Tree Has Fallen. May the seeds he has sown through his life sprout new growth for you and for future generations to come.
Rest in Peace Uncle Tony.