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Getting to Know: Thembisa Khuzwayo

Elaine January 8, 2009 Features Comments Off on Getting to Know: Thembisa Khuzwayo

Tell us a little about your hometown and where you grew up.

I was raised by my great-grandparents in one of South Africa’s nine provinces called KwaZulu-Natal in a small town that has become very well known around the world for its earthy, rhythmic and powerful harmonies: Ladysmith.

Well, it was a very basic upbringing for me; among other things, waking up at the crack of dawn, walk for miles to collect firewood up in the hills, come back to do the household chores but I was fortunate to be able to fully attend school.

What were your fondest childhood memories?

My fondest childhood memories would be every time my grandfather came home from work in Johannesburg—whether for a short visit or for the holidays.

I was his first grandchild, actually I was everyone’s first something (my mother’s first child, my many uncles and aunts first niece), so he’d always bring me lovely presents. Everyone really took care of me the best way they could and yes, they never let me forget it (laugh)! Payback time!

Had music always played an important role in your life?

I got introduced to traditional music and other contemporary styles of music from an early age. Amahubo neZaga (Zulu War Songs and Chants) came mainly from my great-grandfather who was born in 1901 and survived many wars—tribal and colonial. I’d sit by his feet and listen as he recounted the fascinating war stories.

My great-grandmother, too, was an amazing storyteller and a lot of music accompanied her stories. I still remember many songs I heard at weddings, celebrations and later the other family members would bring music from the big cities—so I knew Ladysmith Black Mambazo very well by the time I was 8 years old.

Have you always known that you were meant to be a performer?

No, I’m very shy and I was always very intimidated by situations that drew too much attention to me. I’m still very much like that even now. Ask the people who meet me after the show (chuckle)…so the stage was never a place for me.

I did Speech & Drama in high school and I guess it was fate trying to show me something but even then I was always better off in the library with history books.

When did you join the Choir?

I joined the choir when it started back in 2002.

How did you hear about the Choir? How did your first audition go?

I was already working as a dancer and I got a call from Beverly, the executive producer, to bring dancers and drummers to audition for the choir. I took with me the people that were available and we each auditioned. The rest is what you see now…

What has been your favourite memory from trips abroad with the Choir? Have there been any particular countries that stand out?

In 2005 we visited different islands in the French Caribbean and I absolutely loved every moment…the beauty of the beaches…I mean I can’t even swim but I’d stay in the water for hours and the mornings were divine.

We went to the Fiji Islands earlier in 2008; the love of the people brought me to tears. They knew each one of us by name and all the songs we sing. They asked me a lot about my beaded bracelets…I had an amazing time there and if I ever get married, I’d love to go back to any of those places for my honeymoon (smile).

On the flipside, have there been any not-so-good memories when traveling overseas?

I honestly can’t think of one. Each place is different and I, or one, try not to compare but take every place for what it is.

What do you miss most about home when you are away touring with the Choir?

Mhh…other than my son’s singing (laugh)?

Ok…I follow very closely what happens in South African politics because that is my next intended line of work. I heavily rely on online sources to get the news and honestly, that is never enough for me. I become very unsettled when major political changes occur when I’m outside the country.

When not performing, what are some of the things you do on tour to keep yourself busy/sane?

I read…a lot and part of the reason why my luggage becomes heavy is the thick books underneath the clothes. I love biographies and they’re seldom thin. And I shop!! But not for clothes, electronic gadgets get my attention all the time.

What artists past or present have inspired you? Is there a particular artist you would love the Choir to collaborate with in the future?

I listen to a lot of African music. West African musicians are my favourite so I had a blast when we worked with Baaba Maal (Senegal), Angelique Kidjo (Benin) and Youssou N’Dour (Senegal).

I’d still love to see the choir perform with Salif Keita (Mali) and Busi Mhlongo (South Africa),they both have an incredible energy and creativity that would blend marvelously with the choir.


What are your all-time favourite SGC songs to perform in concert? Why?

Ke Na Le Modisa; it’s the Sotho version of Psalm 23 and I love the Psalms. World In Union…because it’s one of those songs that always carry a powerful message.

Also, anything sung by Rebecca [Nyamane]…I can’t even begin to explain her tremendous depth as a vocalist and it‘s all talent, no training!! Listen to the song Forever Young on the African Spirit CD.

If you were not with the Choir, what would you be doing and why?

Working in government; that’s what I’d be doing and I will in due time.

I’m very passionate about South Africa as a developing country and it’s relations to the global community. Working with the choir, part of that journey has begun because I’m already the ambassador of my country to the many countries I visit.

What was the last movie you watched? Did you like it and would you recommend it for others to see?

Mamma Mia!! Yes, anyone who loves having fun needs to see this movie. I think Meryl Streep is off the hook.

If you and your fellow Choir members were competing on “Survivor”, who do you think would win the million dollars? Whom would you form alliances with?

Bongani “Honey” Ncube would be the ultimate Survivor. He never takes himself too seriously yet his imagination takes many by surprise. I’d definitely form alliances with him and Mandla Modawu, another one who’s very steady but makes powerful decisions.

What is something people would be surprised to find out about you?

That I do my own beadwork when I have time. I do belts, skirts and pretty much anything I can put beads on.

I’ve always loved it when I was a child and saw the older people wearing traditional clothing but couldn’t have it. When I could handle a needle and a thread, I then taught myself.

What is the number one misconception non-South Africans have about your country?

That we’re a crime ridden country and it’s unsafe to be here…well I’ve been around the world and I haven’t seen a place that has no crime.

We’re hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup and we’d love to have as many of our friends from around the world as possible!!

What is your best joke?

I love people that make me laugh, Chris Rock and Steve Harvey crack me up…I laugh so much. I’m usually the last one to stop even when the joke is long over but I don’t tell jokes. I can’t,I guess it’s because I’m bad at remembering them.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People that tap on my shoulder/arm more than once to get my attention!

Lastly, if you could have any super power, what would it be?

If I had a superpower I’d use it to wipe out all the diseases and wars that have ravaged our continent.

Thank you.

All photos courtesy of Thembisa Khuzwayo.


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About The Author

From the Great White North of Canada, Elaine is the owner and maintainer of SGF. Besides being a big-time Soweto Gospel Choir fan, she is passionate about world travel, technology, all sports and above all the great mangosteen fruit. Oh, and she can't sing to save her life...one love! :)

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