Iconic pitch: Sibongile Khumalo combines classical, jazz and African traditional music styles. As she turns 60, she says it is important that the voice of the older woman is heard more loudly alongside the narratives of youth. Picture: SUPPLIED
Iconic pitch: Sibongile Khumalo combines classical, jazz and African traditional music styles. As she turns 60, she says it is important that the voice of the older woman is heard more loudly alongside the narratives of youth. Picture: SUPPLIED

When jazz vocalist Sibongile Khumalo ascended the stage of Kippies Jazz Club in Newtown in 1992 to perform in a series of concerts called Three Faces, it was the birth of her musical career, the moment that marked the genesis of a unique repertoire that has defined her music for 25 years.

Although she is mainly defined as a jazz vocalist, the highly celebrated musician’s repertoire is a rare combination of classical, jazz and African traditional music.

She has the gift and skill — sometimes displayed in one song, at other times on several albums — to intelligently combine these three diverse music traditions, resulting in a genre that has left music writers struggling to categorise her.

Khumalo has amassed millions of fans in SA and abroad. Her musical prowess and contribution to the cultural enrichment of SA was recognised by Rhodes University, which bestowed on her an  honorary doctorate.

Music guru

Trained in western classical music traditions at Wits University, this daughter of the late music guru Prof Khabi Mngoma is as adept at classical music as she is at jazz and traditional music. Over the years, the quality of her recorded music and her live shows has impressed many a discerning music lover due to its consistency.

"When I launched the Three Faces series of concerts in 1992, that moment defined my musical journey until this day," Khumalo says.

"I often hear people say that mixing two or more music genres would confuse audiences. But the truth is, if you do it in honesty and you are truthful to the process, discerning audiences respect that and even embrace what you are doing."

With seven highly regarded albums under her belt, she is now rehearsing for a show entitled More Than Three Faces, which will celebrate her 60th birthday at the Market Theatre from September 22 to 24.

"The idea of celebrating my 60th birthday came about a year ago. My friends suggested that because I was turning 60, it was important that I celebrate this life," Khumalo says.

"If you look around these days, the old woman’s voice has tended to be quiet, whereas the young people’s voices have become louder.

"And some of the narratives currently championed by the youth sometimes make us older people uncomfortable and, therefore, it is important that the narrative of the older woman must also be heard alongside that of the youth.

"The youth today speak straight, which is fine, but it is equally important that the older woman’s voice must also be heard louder. That is the context in which the three shows are being staged."

It is significant for Khumalo that these shows will be at the Market Theatre, because she has a long relationship with the venue, starting from the genesis of her music career and particularly when she recorded what later became one of the most highly rated live albums in SA, Live at the Market Theatre, released in 1998.

"That album was not only well received in SA, but also did well overseas," she says.

"Again this time around, the performances will be recorded live and will result in an album.

"The More Than Three Faces concerts draw inspiration from the singular narrative of the passing on of the proverbial baton," she says.

Circle of life

This narrative is as vital to Khumalo’s growth as it is central to her contribution to the cultural industries as an arts teacher, administrator, singer-songwriter, composer, performer and mentor.

Each of the three concerts will tell a different part of Khumalo’s story, tracking journey the through her lineage and legacy. The More Than Three Faces concert triune is an "allegory and metaphor of the circle of life, creation and our interconnectedness brought to life.

"Through the concert triune, we aim to celebrate Sibongile Khumalo’s life and give thanks for the music that has over the years been an inspiration to audiences the world over," says the concert’s executive producer, Ayanda Khumalo.

From Ancient Evenings to This Evening is the theme for the finale of the triune of shows and is dubbed a celebration of the musical legacy of Khumalo

Each of the three shows has been meticulously packaged into a theme; each with a particular narrative.

Friday September 22 has the theme Haya Khongisa, Haya. In this instalment, Khumalo will explore parts of SA’s rich musical heritage that have deeply affected her.

She will perform selections from the Haya Mtwan’Omkhulu (Sing Princess) song cycle, taken from Princess Magogo’s vast repertoire, which she recorded in 2005; selections from The Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu Opera; and selections from uShaka ka Senzangakhona — The Epic Poem, all composed or arranged by Mzilikazi Khumalo.

Quintessential

The programme will include compositions by Motsumi Makhene, Bongani Ndodana, Isak Roux and Phillip Miller, as well as arrangements of her favourite choral pieces.

The September 23 theme is Dreaming in Colour. It promises to be a quintessential Khumalo performance that will have two grand pianos surrounded by a jazz trio and voices.

From Ancient Evenings to This Evening is the theme for the finale of the triune of shows and is dubbed a celebration of the musical legacy of Khumalo.

September 24 is Khumalo’s 60th birthday and she will be celebrating it with young singers who have all, in their own way, made a mark on her musical journey.

The creative team comprises the talents Warona Seane as creative director; Marcus Desando directing Haya Khongisa, Haya; with longtime collaborators Mdu Mtshali and Tshepo Mngoma at the helm of the musical direction for the grand musical portrait.

• Tickets are available at www.webtickets.co.za or at the Market Theatre box office in Newtown, Johannesburg. Day tickets are available for R300 while a three-day pass is R760.

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