100 World Class South Africans: Caiphus Semenya & Letta Mbulu

2013-09-10 12:00

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Sweet harmony

The 1959 musical King Kong (not to be confused with the movie) was possibly SA’s most significant stage show.

It gave disenfranchised black talents the international recognition they deserved (it was a smash hit on London’s West End), and allowed some to escape the apartheid state.

It also brought golden-voiced Letta Mbulu together with her husband-to-be, musician and composer Caiphus Semenya. Mbulu toured with Harry Belafonte, shared a stage with Nina Simone and sang on Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl.

She wrote hits for Miriam Makeba and often featured on Semenya’s best work, including the American TV series Roots and Steven Spielberg’s film The Color Purple.

Semenya wrote the score for both, and also the melody for Quincy Jones’s Grammy-winning Back on the Block.

He later became the guy to hire as musical director for major events: the Nelson Mandela Tribute concerts in 1990, Mandela’s presidential inauguration, the launch of the African Union and SA’s ‘Ten Years of Freedom’ celebrations.

After living in exile since the 1960s, the golden couple returned to SA in 1991 and recorded their first album on African soil together (Not Yet Uhuru).

Semenya’s latest passion is getting our kids connected, working with the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation to promote technology education in Africa.

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