Sibongile Khumalo | An eternal breath of life

Sibongile Khumalo

After listening to Ms. Sibongile Khumalo’s latest album and spending some time with her, MR MAJOLA MAJOLA is convinced that the veteran songbird has struck the right balance between an independently-minded entrepreneurial suss and making music that answers the questions of our time. 


When future social anthropologists and music sociologists, measure the intrinsic value of music within the landscape of Post Apartheid South Africa, it would come as a shock if Ms. Sibongile Khumalo’s contribution to society through the medium of the arts is left unexamined. Her latest offering, “Breath of Life”, is released at a time when modes of production and distribution have been completely transformed by technology, affecting monopoly in music consumption trends and reconstructing the market place all together.

This shift has on the one hand impacted artists positively by allowing them to be in the driver’s seat creatively, as well as granted them permission to control the business aspects of their craft. On the other hand, it has had a detrimental effect on the demand for their work, as the diversification of a previously homogeneous mainstream market continues to be redesigned by alternative marketing platforms. It wouldn’t be conspiratorial to categorically state that South African radio treats local musicians like a loathed step child, condemning them to the destitute position of begging and bribing in order to be heard.

This treatment becomes a problematic barrier, encountered right at the end of a long and tedious creative phase, a barrier that would have been placed right in the beginning of the creative process in the gone by era of the recording industry. Taking all of this background into account, it is important to applaud Ms. Khumalo for demonstrating staying power not just creatively but in her new business strategy of controlling her own output. It is now opportune for artists to think of themselves as the main ingredient of the industry, as their control can also imaginatively gravitate towards data capturing, providing artists with the power to be creators of both music and the music consuming “niche” markets they cater to.

Music is a microscopic tool that zooms into the subconscious, possessing supernatural powers to reflect back to society its own evolving cultural practices. The task of mindful artists of Ms. Khumalo’s calibre then, becomes the nourishing of society’s seed beds of hopes and dreams. That is why her art would provide researchers with a range of issues hidden from the surface and buried deep in South Africa’s mind space.

South African radio treats local musicians like a loathed step child, condemning them to the destitute position of begging and bribing in order to be heard.

In the English version of J.J.R Jolobe’s poem “The making of a servant,” the poet vividly outlines how black people were tamed into objects of white supremacy. He likened the servant to an ox that was choked and yoked by ropes, and broken in the denigrating routine of servitude. The timbre of Khumalo’s instrument leaps like a freed bird and chimes out of compassion to awaken black people into realising their own personal power. By so doing, Ms. Khumalo is rewriting the real meaning of serving and recapturing the real essence of Ubuntu away from the commercialised western philosophy. She is a servant of her art driven by a higher mission of uplifting her people.

The late US author Dr Maya Angelou once said in an interview: “There is something gracious and graceful about serving – although history forced black people to serve – hence anyone who serves is looked upon with such revilement.” Ms. Khumalo’s commendable insistence on serving her people manages to preserve African art and simultaneously immortalises the hopes and dreams of Africans, so that each generation can contribute in their realisation.

In the book “The African Renaissance: The New Struggle” there is a chapter co-authored by Ms. Catharine Adora Hoppers, Mr Teboho Moja and Ms. Thobeka Mda, titled “Making this our last passive moment: The way forward.” They concede that “When you deal with people who have lost their self-esteem, their pride as well as their dignity, it is important that the knowledge fed to them is fused with sense and the objective of helping them to regain what they have lost.” We are currently passing through a phase of leadership vacuum in many spheres of South African life, yet the task of passing on knowledge alluded to by the writers becomes the responsibility of everyone who understands something about leading . In her illustrious career, Ms. Khumalo has earned the weighty title of a leader. In “Breath of Life” she reiterates the need for us to heed “the call” and serve our land as “Warriors of peace” in order for “This land, South of Africa” to heal.

This call is for the leader who is a writer filling up history’s empty pages with content. It is for the editor proof-reading what has been written for purposes of publication. It is for the news reader standing by to utter the words “making news at this hour”. It is for the producer whose index finger hovers above the “On air” or “record” button. It is for the individual who is channel hopping seeking entertainment or information.

In the closing lines of his poem Mr Jolobe writes: “hope lies in action aimed at freedom”. Ms. Khumalo’s latest work is founded on hope for the attainment of a resource-based freedom for black people. And so it becomes relevant for all of us to join in and exclaim proudly:, Hail the reigning Queen of the South African Songbook! You, are a “Breath of Life”.

Image /Standard Bank Joy of Jazz

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