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Sibongile Khumalo- South Africa’s First Lady of Song


Music is a world within itself, it is a language we all understand. It has a healing power and the ability to take people out of themselves for hours. Clearly, Elton John couldn’t have said it better.

His assertion explains Sibongile’s voracious taste for music, she is one that believes that music does not belong to a select few, but to everyone. And that no one should be denied the right to good music.

Born in Orlando West, the heart of Soweto, sibongile was raised by her mother, Grace, a qualified nurse and her father, Khabi Mngoma, a music professor and historian. Her father was a lover of music and all of its traditions.  Sibongile caught the music bug at a very young age; she grew up listening to and singing opera, oratorio and the classical art song.

If Sibongile has made a smooth transition to African and international acclaim, it’s probably because she’s had a good training. She began her musical journey in earnest at the age of eight under Emily Motsieloa; her first formal trainer and an influential musician and personality in township circles around Johannesburg.

The young girl studied violin, singing, drama and dance before going on to gain a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from the University of Zululand, a BA Honours and a Higher Diploma in Personnel Management from the University of the Witwatersrand.  She has also taught and researched music at the University of Zululand.

At the age of 24, Sibongile was approached to head up FUBA’s music department, (The Federated Union of Black Arts); she eventually became the Funda Arts Centre’s Coordinator for three years. She is currently a member of the board of directors of SAMRO, chairman of the Performers Organisation of South Africa (POSA) and the founding chairperson of the association of South African Business Women in the Arts (SABWA).

Dynamic, multi-talented and focused, Sibongile Khumalo has captivated diverse audiences all over South Africa and beyond.  Her charisma and self-confidence makes it even better. She has a magical way of fascinating her listeners as she sonorously glides from world to world, exploring and breaking boundaries with nourishing South African flavours.

1992 launched the talented songstress into a world of great possibilities; she began to perform in earnest, making it difficult for anyone to keep up pace with her. Since then, she has graced numerous stages locally and internationally. Her major hit performance was The Three Faces of Sibongile Khumalo, a sell-out show held at Kippies in Johannesburg which showcased her adeptness in the jazz, South African indigenous music and opera genres. This performance earned her the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1993, firmly establishing her as a woman to watch on the South African music scene.


Sibongile has also been on stage with numerous internationally acclaimed musicians like; Oumou Sangare, Sally Nyolo (formerly of Zap Mama) and Hanitra Rasoanaivo from the group Tarika, in a collaboration called ‘Women of Afrika’; she has toured the USA with Hugh Masekela and done numerous other collaborations with him in South Africa, including the incredibly successful “Songs of Migration”. The action woman was also part of the ‘Intercontinental’ tour with Jack Dejohnette, Danilo Perez, Jerome Harris, Byron Wallen and Jason Yarde; she performed a special commission by Jason Yarde at the Bath International Music Festival, called ‘Reflections in Reverence and Remembrance’, which also premiered at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown.

The amazing lady of song continues to thrill Africans with her exceptional talent and grace. She has performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Johannesburg and Cape Town 1994 and 1995); the Brahms Alto Rhapsody (Johannesburg City Hall 1994 and Durban City Hall 1996); Sisters in Synch with Aviva Pelham  (Civic Theatre – Johannesburg and Grahamstown Festival 1994); Rhythms of Africa with the National Symphony Orchestra (Sun City, Durban and Johannesburg 1994); Handel’s Messiah with Lord Yehudi Menuhin (Cape Town and Johannesburg 1995); Sibongile Khumalo and Friends (Johannesburg 1995).

Furthermore, she has also had concerts in France (with conductor Hubert Soudant); Egypt (with the National Symphony Orchestra); and London (during Africa ’95 with the Brodsky Quartet and at the SAA 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the South African High Commission).

And has performed in several musicals like; Marabi; Baby Come Duze; Once on This Island; and Goree (which toured Europe and the USA).

Ranking high on her list of musical acmes is Sibongile’s debut album, Ancient Evenings – a magical journey through the rich embroidery of South African music culture; her critically acclaimed operatic debut as Carmen (Bizet) in Durban, CD and television recordings of Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Ushaka ka Senzangakhona, performing at the Two Nations Celebrate concert honouring President Mandela (Royal Albert Hall, London), and the SAA/Sibongile Khumalo national tour.  During April 1997, Sibongile was the mezzo-soprano soloist in the Verdi Requiem under the baton of Sir David Willcocks, during the South African tour of the London Bach Choir.

The African lady of song has been heard at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre. She was part of the African Odyssey series at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC and she has performed at Ronnie Scott’s in London.

She recorded her first album in 1996, which she titled Ancient Evenings, it was an exploration of the African indigenous music that she had been brought up listening to, 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”.

The album turned out to be a success and a launch pad into greater things for the young woman .In 1998, Sibongile released her second album, a live recording of a performance held at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. 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, won Sibongile a SAMA award, this time for the Best Adult Contemporary Performance. Immortal Secrets, the title of Sibongile Khumalo’s third album, is a CD that continued the work she began with Ancient Evenings.


Next was Quest, an album that truly showcases Sibongile as a new South African woman, an individual with a strong sense of self and culture, who is equally open and receptive to difference, ignoring every conventional system created by culture, language and history. Like expected, Quest garnered her a SAMA for best Female Vocal Performance as well as a nomination for best Producer.

In 2013, she was recognised by the Naledi Theatre Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was also identified as one of “100 World Class South Africans” by City Press newspaper and conferred with 2 honorary doctorates by the University of Zululand and the University of South Africa.

Sibongile was the first person to sing the title role of Princess Magogo in the first African opera Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, singing the solo with dignity and an unbeatable passion.

The pretty African songstress has done exceptionally well for herself and for Africa. She continues to soar and has no intention of slowing her pace any time soon.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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