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Listen to the SA Navy Band
Victory at sea

The Band in 1990s

In 1989 Commander Mike Oldham was appointed the third Director of Music of the South African Navy Band.

This period in the band’s history was the start of major transformation within the band, as well as the South African Navy, reflecting the changes of South Africa as a nation.  In 1991, the first non-white musicians were recruited into the band.  By 2002 the South African Navy Band was a fully integrated, multi-cultural band representing the “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa.  Faced with the need to align the band to the Navy’s (and the nation's)  transformation process, Commander Oldham needs to be acknowledged for his enormous contribution in moving the band away from a formal and traditional type of military band, to one which is today representative of, inclusive of and accessible to South Africa’s multi-cultural society.

The excitement of performing at the Edinburgh Tattoo, broadcast live across Great Britain

One of his many innovations was the introduction of traditional African musical instruments both on the march and in concert.  During his tenure, band concerts became more “show-like” and less formal than the concerts of old, something greatly appreciated by many sectors of the audience.  

In 1994 and 1999 the South African Navy Band was selected to provide both the entertainment and ceremonial music for the inaugurations of State Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, these events enjoying worldwide TV coverage.  The Band undertook many ceremonial duties placing them under the spotlight in front of high-profile visitors, Chiefs of Navy and many foreign dignitaries.

In the world of civilian entertainment, they have earned the highest recognition after regular guest appearances at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, with standing ovations at every performance.   An accolade from the Fair Lady Magazine stated “This slick ensemble took the Festival by storm and has (like the President) become something of a national treasure”.

The SA Navy Band has performed at all the main concert venues throughout South Africa.  They were selected to participate in the opening of the International Conference Centre, Durban and then to perform the first Gala Concert in this prestigious venue.  The Band has on two occasions shared a concert with Ladysmith Black Mambaso and the Drakensberg Boys Choir, bringing the crowds to their feet and being acclaimed by the Mayor of Ladysmith as one of South Africa’s national assets. 

In 1995 and 2003 the South African Navy Band was invited to participate in the opening of the Rugby World Cup as well as the opening of the World Cricket Cup, both events held in Cape Town.

Internationally, the SA Navy Band gained recognition through the medium of recording.  Their “Celebration” CD was reviewed worldwide by the International Military Music Society (IMMS), earning acclaim from the USA representative (Dolan Lannan): “In my opinion there is not a Nation in the world which would not be proud to have this as one of their premier Bands”. The Norwegian IMMS reviewer (Arne Halvorsen) referred to the Band as being “...world standard.  It is a long time since I have enjoyed such a recording this much - so fresh and full of good mood”.

Since 2002, the SA Navy Band has become a regular feature on the international music scene, having performed at the Bremen Music Show of the Nations, Germany, in January 2002, 2004 and 2008.   In 2003 the Band also participated at The Netherlands National Tattoo.  At all these performances, the SA Navy Band was hailed as one of the best.

In 2004 the Band celebrated its 50th anniversary by becoming the first South African Military Band to perform at the prestigious Edinburgh Tattoo.  A journalist at The Daily Telegraph, a British National Newspaper stated “I was blown away by the South African Navy Band, a riotously informal outfit that combines conventional military instruments with marimbas, banjos and African drums.  The martial meets township jive in their exhilarating set, the sax solo is electrifying and the whole audience joins in with The Lion Sleeps Tonight.  This is a band that really knows how to swing”.

Commander Mike Oldham retired in 2004.  In his retirement, he remains involved in the South African Navy’s community outreach projects where he currently runs a school of music for primarily previously disadvantaged children, a project he started whilst still Director of Music of the SA Navy Band and something which is close to his heart.  He currently has in excess of 100 young and keen learners, utilising instruments that have been generously donated from far and wide. (See the Isivunguvungu page on our website for further details regarding this project).


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revision date: Tuesday, March 09, 2010

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