Iconic award-winning singer and songwriter, Dr Sibongile Khumalo passed yesterday (28 January) of complications following a stroke. Born in Orlando West, Soweto in 1957, Khumalo was one of South Africa’s most unique and unforgettable voices, who influenced countless musicians throughout her life.
Known for her exceptional range, by the time the classically trained musician released her astounding first album, Ancient Evenings in 1996, she had racked up quite the acclaim with her vocal prowess. After winning the Standard Bank Young Artists Award in 1993, Khumalo went on to be part of a collective of luminous musicians making their mark by exploring what jazz sounded like in the “new” South Africa.
One cannot think about the South African Song Book without thinking about Khumalo’s sublime and resonant register, or the skilled way she straddled the boundaries between African contemporary sounds, choral music, jazz and opera. Whatever she sang on, she delivered it with a heightened sense of the song’s narrative. Outside of Khumalo’s compositions, she lent her powerful vocals to some of our most loved standards from Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal’Inkomo to Dorothy Masuka’s Yombela. Her contribution and prominence also filtered down to the local hip-hop scene, seen in her collaboration with Tumi Molekane on Stage Lights and most recently on Reason and Swizz Beatz’s Azania.
Upon Kaya 959’s launch in 1997, Khumalo was one of the first to take to our airwaves for a show she co-hosted with Hugh Masekela, who was also one of the station’s shareholders. The weekly show titled Waar Was Jy?, focused predominantly on South African music, sounds from around the continent, with conversations centered on memory and archival content. The host of The World Show Nicky Blumenfeld, who has been a with Kaya 959 since its inception remembers that moment fondly, “It was one of the most exceptional shows in radio history. Unfortunately, seeing as this was way before the digital age, because both of them were touring extensively, the show ended as it was hard for them to broadcast from far and in different places.”
Yesterday, Nicky B paid tribute to Khumalo in a special broadcast where she was joined by media personality Criselda Kananda, musician Mbuso Khoza and director Sifiso Khanyile who all shared personal anecdotes of their relationships and interaction with the iconic musician.