Sibongile Khumalo has a new breath of life

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Sibongile Khumalo. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
Sibongile Khumalo. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

Sibongile Khumalo took years to release her latest studio album due to financial and artistic stumbling blocks which, she says, held her back.

Her latest offering, called Breath of Life, comes seven years since her last album and 20 years since the release of her seminal collection, Ancient Evenings.

“As an independent artist, it is not always possible to go into the studio to record,” she says of the financial challenges. “Critically, on a creative level I did not feel that I had the kind of material that I wanted to share with the world. I kept on postponing until just over a year ago when the impulse was just too strong.”

However, City Press was told by two sources close to Khumalo that another reason she was held back was her “ancestral calling”. She trained to become an inyanga, a fact that only her closest friends and family know about.

However, Khumalo will neither confirm nor deny this, saying: “I really don’t want to talk about this. It is personal.”

The celebrated vocalist said that although she had not spent a lot of time in the studio during those seven years, she continued to work as a performing artist and has kept her creative juices flowing.

“If anything, I found I had a lot more freedom to do what I wanted and needed to do,” she said.

Khumalo is billed to perform at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival in September at the Sandton Convention Centre.

She will be performing alongside big international stars such as award-winning pianist José James, tenor saxophonist Houston Person and many others.

One thing that makes Khumalo’s new album special is that the title track is dedicated to her grandson Lethabo.

“Lethabo was born five and a half years ago. The song came to me as I was trying to put him to sleep one day when he was an infant. He wouldn’t sleep, I couldn’t remember a single lullaby and I started to sing a melody that came to me. The following day at the rehearsal, I sang this lullaby and the song was born,” she explains.

Khumalo says each song on her new album has its own special quality. “I would like to leave it to the listening audience to decide for itself. Suffice it to say that thematically it focuses on subjects of gratitude and healing.”

Khumalo is a highly acclaimed exponent of jazz and opera, and has been ascribed with titles such as “doyenne” and “queen of song”.

“I’m constantly aware of the gift that has been bequeathed to me, by my parents, ancestors and God. I’m grateful for the support and the love that has been shown to me by the family, clan and fans. This makes me understand that I’m not alone in what I do.”

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