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Sibongile Khumalo (1957 – )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Sibongile Khumalo (1957 – ) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the development of South African art and culture in the musical fields of jazz and opera.
Profile of Sibongile Khumalo

World-celebrated singer Sibongile Khumalo was born in Soweto in 1957.

At home with traditional South African music, jazz or opera, Khumalo has thrilled audiences from Roodepoort to the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Among her many accolades are the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1993, four South African Music Awards for her light music and jazz recordings, and three FNB Vita Awards for her opera and concert work.

She has performed with many celebrated groups and artists and has graced many an honoured occasion, including former President Nelson Mandela’s 75th birthday and 1994 inauguration. She also led the South African and New Zealand national anthems at the World Cup rugby final in 1995.

Khumalo was born to Grace and Khabi Mngoma in a household filled with music. Her father was a professor of music and her mother a nurse with a lush alto voice.

Among the rich variety of sounds Khumalo heard as a child were Letta Mbulo, Miriam Makeba, Credence Clearwater Revival, Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, Roberta Flack, Jimmy Hendricks, Carly Simon, Janis Joplin and the marching bands and drumbeats of local traditional healers and the Zion Christian Church. Guided by her father, Khumalo began her musical journey at the age of eight under Emily Motsieloa, studying violin, singing, drama and dance.

At the age of 14, Khumalo knew she wanted to be an opera singer. Her father discouraged her for it would have meant studying overseas since there were no opportunities for black people in South Africa, especially for opera singers.

Khumalo decided to teach music instead, going on to complete a BA in music at the University of Zululand, and obtaining a BA Hons from the University of the Witwatersrand. Khumalo also holds a Higher Diploma in Personnel Management.

With limited music teaching opportunities in schools in the black community, Khumalo took to working in independent institutions as a music teacher, administrator and researcher, including at Fuba Academy and the Madimba Institute of African Music based at the Funda Centre in Soweto.

Khumalo concentrated on the musical heritage of the Zulu, Sotho and Tsonga peoples.

Around 1991, Khumalo was driven to begin singing professionally.

Soon her renditions of her passions – opera, oratorio and classical art song – infused with her traditional sensibilities, established her as a sensation in South Africa and abroad.

After her operatic debut as Carmen in Durban and Roodepoort, Khumalo presented numerous critically acclaimed performances, including Handel’s Messiah with Lord Yehudi Menuhin in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 1995.

Among her FNB Vita Awards, is one for Best Performance in a Leading Role in an Opera for her role as Ma Bantjies in Roelof Temmingh’s Buchuland. She received another FNB Vita Award for Divine Divas, a collaborative work with Aviva Pelham and Virginia Davids.

Other career highlights include her debut album, Ancient Evenings, in 1996; a CD and television recordings of Mzilikazi Khumalo’s uSkaka ka Senzangakhona; performing as the mezzo-soprano soloist for Sir David Willcocks in the Verdi Requiem that the London Bach Choir took to South Africa; performing at the Two Nations Celebrate Concert honouring Nelson Mandela at the Royal Albert Hall; and the SAA/Sibongile Khumalo national tour.

Gifted with a velvety voice and plenitude of musical talent, Sibongile Khumalo has risen from the dusty streets of Soweto to make her mark not only on the South African musical scene but on the world of music at large.

Khumalo is in the prime of her music career and continues to nourish the souls of music lovers with her lilting voice.