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Looking back | Early Career | Performing All Over the World | Recording Career | A Busy Schedule

Looking Back
Sibongile Khumalo is South Africa’s first lady of song: the most celebrated member of a musical dynasty marked by an extraordinary vocal gene-pool and passion for making music; a singer who exemplifies and crowns the rich and multi-sourced Southern African singing tradition.

That Sibongile is so accomplished comes as no surprise to those who know even a little of her background

She was born and grew up in Orlando West, the heart of Soweto with her mother, Grace, a qualified nurse and her father, Khabi Mngoma, music professor and historian.Sibongile’s father was a man who celebrated all the music traditions he encountered, from the ubiquitous choral to a range of indigenous music expressions, and the full gamut of western classical genres.

Sibongile is her father’s daughter in her insatiable appetite for music and profound belief that no music belongs to some and not to others. In a way, everything that she does in her musical career is a tribute to him. She grew up listening to and singing opera, oratorio and the classical art song, and these are genres that she still loves to interpret and perform.

Sibongile's voice is, quite simply, one of the greatest natural instruments on display anywhere in the world. Visceral in its presence and sheer size, splendid in its timbral richness, expressive in every nuance of register and emotion, it is a voice immediately recognizable and always unique.

Sibongile Khumalo could have been the star of any major European or American operatic stage if she hadn’t felt so strongly about living and making a career in South Africa. But she did; and, as much as it is her extraordinary vocal gift, it is also her amazing sense of situatedness, in her art and in her being, that makes her the artist she is. This is a situatedness that informs her interpretations in every genre (from western classical to township jazz), because she has lived with them all, and grown with them, and believed in them as her own.

Early Career

Sibongile’s first formal music teacher was Emily Motsieloa, herself an influential musician and personality in township circles around Johannesburg.

She went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Zululand and an Honours Degree in the History of Music from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Approached, at the youthful age of 24, to head up FUBA's music department (The Federated Union of Black Arts) and then, armed with a Higher Diploma in Personnel Management (gained in 1986) Sibongile became Funda Arts Centre's Coordinator for three years.

Having completed her diploma and honed her administrative skills, Sibongile spread her wings, participating in a various research projects and working with different artistic institutes, amongst them the Madimba Institute of African Music and the board of Opera Africa.

Performing all over the World

In 1992, Sibongile began to perform in earnest – and the list of her shows is long and hugely impressive. Notable amongst these performances was The Three Faces of Sibongile Khumalo, a sell-out show held at Kippies in Johannesburg which showcased her proficiency in the jazz, South African indigenous music and opera genres. This performance also earned her Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1993, firmly establishing her as a woman to watch on the South African music scene.

Not neglecting her operatic interests, Sibongile collaborated with sopranos Aviva Pelham and Virginia Davids in 1999 for a series of concerts entitled, Divine Divas, for which she was awarded an FNB VITA Award for the Best Musical Performance of the year.

Khumalo has sung in major venues not only in South Africa but all over the world. Appearances as a soloist with South African symphony orchestras in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, stand alongside her realisations of leading roles such as Carmen, Amneris in Aida and Azucena in Il Trovatore at the Artscape Opera Stage and the State Theatre Opera House in Pretoria, the Witch in Hansel und Gretel at the Roodepoort Opera. She sang the role of Azucena at Den Norske Opera in Oslo in 2004.

She has been heard at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre. As part of the African Odyssey series at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC; she performed at Ronnie Scott’s in London. Singing the title role in Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, presented by Opera Africa, with appearances also at HetMuzik Theater, Amsterdam and at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.
Khumalo’s oratorio repertoire includes among others, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, both the Verdi and Mozart Requiems, and Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Zulu epic uShaka ka Senzangakhona

Recording Career

In the midst of a whirlwind schedule of performances, Sibongile finally decided to settle down to actually recording an album, which she did in 1996. Her first CD, Ancient Evenings, was an exploration of the African indigenous music that she had been brought up listening and it earned her two South African Music Awards - Best Female Vocal Performance and Best Adult Contemporary Performance as well as Song of the Year for composer Motsumi Makhene's song "Untold Story". In 1998, Sibongile released her second album, a live recording of a performance held at Johannesburg's Market Theatre. Aptly entitled Live at the Market Theatre, this album turned its attention to Sibongile's love of jazz. Again, the album received public and critical acclaim, and again, Sibongile took home a SAMA award, this time for the Best Adult Contemporary Performance.Immortal Secrets is the title of Sibongile Khumalo's third album, a CD that continued the work she began with Ancient Evenings. A thoughtful, introspective and nostalgic CD, Immortal Secrets articulated the feelings and reflections of a contemporary, sometimes urban being, seeking to maintain their core identity as a person steeped in African culture and heritage.

And then came Quest, an album that truly shows just how Sibongile is the epitome of the perfect New South African, an individual with a strong sense of self and culture, who is equally open and receptive to difference, ignoring borders artificially created by culture, language and history.

And, most recently, Sibongile Khumalo, an inspired and inspirational album that moves from the substantial repertoire of the nineteenth-century western classical repertoire to the equally classic gems of African choralism and the songs of Princess Magogo that she has made her own.

A busy schedule

In August 2006 Sibongile was the musical director for the `African Soul Sisters’ concert, part of Joy for Jazz in Johannesburg. In October of that year she was also music director for ‘Soul on Turf’ at Sun City and in November she conceived and directed the 30th Anniversary Celebrations for the Khongisa Academy for the Performing Arts, Kwa-Dlangezwa, KZN.

She was appointed Chairperson of the Festival Committee of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, a post she currently holds.

Sibongile remains involved with the Khongisa Academy for the Performing Arts , started by her late father Khabi Mngoma. In March of 2007, she founded the Khabi Mngoma Foundation, whose purpose it is to fundraise for the Khongisa Academy

In 2007, she spent several periods abroad, in March touring Europe with Jack DeJohnette and others in a collaboration entitled Intercontinental. The tour ended at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

In July she sang in Phillip Miller’s Rewind Cantata at the `Celebrate Brooklyn’ Festival in Brooklyn USA. In August Sibongile performed in Opera Africa’s Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, prior to a tour to Oslo, Norway, presented by Den Norske Opera

On her return, Sibongile co-produced and directed a musical collaboration with other esteemed African singers that include Abigail Kubheka and Gloria Bosman, called SISTAS HEALING OUR SOULS, at the Cape Town City Hall.

In the last few years, Sibongile Khumalo has spent a great deal of her extremely busy schedule honing her skills as a producer, and also ensuring a legacy for future young singers and recorded a dvd for the launch of her independent record label, Magnolia Vision Records In 2007.

Magnolia Vision

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