By Zuko Komisa
Ntate Caiphus Semenya turns 80 years old on Monday and Good Friday with Skhumba & Ndumiso hosted a birthday celebration in honor of this renowned music legend. Born in the Alexandra township of South Africa, on August 19, 1939, Ntate Semenya says he grew up in an environment of gangs which is what he attributes streetwise nature too.
“Apartheid was at its height at the time. Life was tough, but for some reason, we did not succumb, we did things that we were not expected to do.”
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He recalls the first time he made money from music was when he was part of a musical King Kong which began in 1959, saying he was about 19 years old when this was happening.
“By the time I was 20 I was earning 3 pounds, 17 shilling and 3 cents, a lot of people used to get that per month… I was earning that per week. I looked at that and realised I could make a living.”
In 1964, Ntate Semenya and Mam’Letta uprooted themselves from South Africa and relocated to Los Angeles, California. This is where they began building their professional careers free from government oppression. It is during his stay in the States that he composed for a broad range of jazz and pop artists, including Lou Rawls, Nina Simone, and Cannonball Adderley.
Listen to the full conversation here:
“I look back at all the people I worked with… I remember those days, I never really thought I would hit 60, or 50 years, the way life was back then for black people. I also never thought I’d be a star…”
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For his celebration, he was joined by friends and admirers Sello Maake-Ka Ncube, Yvonne Chaka Chaka as well as Mpho Popps.
Ntate Caiphus Semenya continues to be honored with multiple musical and cultural awards for his immense contribution to South African music history. His biggest dream is to continues being able to play a role in bringing South African music to the masses along with assisting in the development of younger performers.