With more and more celebrity marriages ending these days, it’s refreshing to see one power couple standing the test of time. Legendary musician Caiphus Semenya (80) and his gorgeous wife, Letta Mbulu (77), have been happily married for more than half a century.
And after 54 years together the music giants are still as in love as ever. Caiphus’ Angelina and Matswale, and Letta’s Not Yet Uhuru and Ndiphendule are still crowd-pleasers at weddings and gatherings today. Their longevity is startling – even to them.
A LASTING LEGACY
“It really is a surprise to me that my music is still being played more than 30 years later. I didn’t plan or expect it but I’m truly grateful,” Caiphus tells Move!. According to Letta, good lyrics that resonate with people is the reason their music is still relevant. In May, the musical couple celebrated 54 years of marriage.
And being together so long means they’ve seen each other through some ups and downs. Caiphus “has a terrible temper” but she’s used to him, Letta says. “Besides, he’s a Leo and can’t help himself,” she says, laughing. “Other than that, he is an amazing man, he’s very supportive and loving. He also has a sense of humour.”
Caiphus looks at Letta lovingly while she sings his praises. “When I met her, I genuinely fell in love with her. So far she hasn’t done anything to make me want to terminate our marriage,” he jokes. “Disagreements happen all the time,” he continues, more seriously. “But what I love about her is that she is a very responsible mother, wife and artist. She is a true African woman and I try to be a true African man.”
According to Letta, there’s no secret to a happy union. “There is no formula to a long, successful marriage. “It is up to the two of you. “I believe it takes understanding, respect, honesty and forgiveness to make a union work,” she says. “There have been a lot of challenges but being truthful to each other and respecting each other has helped.”
RESPECTING EACH OTHER
They have both been successful in their careers and it hasn’t interfered with their marriage. It all boils down to valuing each other, they say. “There is this thing among musicians who are in union, competing against each other and having an energy of ‘I’m better than you’, which is nonsense,” Letta says.
“We sat down and I told him I know he has a gift from the Creator. I’ll be his wife at home but when I must do what I was born to do, he must respect that. It has been working for us all these years.”
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One of the biggest challenges the couple faced in their marriage was living in exile in America and raising their two boys, Muntuyetwa and Mosese, away from friends and family. There was a time they didn’t have money, Letta admits.
But even when the going was tough, they made sure their children didn’t forget their roots. “We took them to a private African school in the US. We also had rules. When they came home, they abided by our rules.
The language had to change when they were home: no English in the house – only Sesotho and isiXhosa,” Letta says. They’re a modern family with old school values but Letta doesn’t believe they stand out. “As a society our values have changed. B
ack then, as elders, some of us were more focused on putting bread on the table and it became increasingly difficult to impart the knowledge and values we had to our children,” the Jikijela hit-maker says. Not only do Caiphus and Letta share the same values, but they’ve also passed these onto their kids.
A MILESTONE BIRTHDAY
The Semenya family recently got together to honour their patriarch. The man behind Nomalanga celebrated his 80th birthday on 19 August. “It isn’t everyone who gets to live for so long,” Caiphus says. “It is a blessing.” He marked his birthday in style with a star-studded concert at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg.
Music stars Tsepo Tshola, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse and Condry Ziqubu all paid tribute to Caiphus, which his wife planned. “I wanted to have a big party at a home with family. She said to me, ‘That’s nice, but I don’t think so’,” he says, chuckling.
Sello Maake KaNcube directed the event, which showcased classics such as Matswale, Angelina, Ziphi’nkomo, as well Ndiphendule, Caiphus’ powerful collaboration with Letta. Proceeds from the concert will go to the singer’s National Academy of Africa’s Performing Arts in Soweto.
A BETTER FUTURE
Caiphus, who lives his life by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”, started the school as a vehicle of transformation. “My dream started in 1964. I wanted to get into a music school in the United States while I was in exile, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t read,” he says. “I had an ear for music but that wasn’t enough. For three months a friend of a friend taught me to read music.
When I came back home after 27 years, I knew I needed to start a school for music.” He put together a proposal, which he gave to former president Nelson Mandela. The pitch, he says, got passed from person to person and nothing came of it.
Then two years ago, a determined Caiphus drafted a proposal and sent it to arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa, who gave the school a donation of R10 million. It will cost R34m to complete the school and the R10m made a huge difference, Caiphus says, but there’s more to be done.
It’s unclear how many students the school will accommodate. The school will also have instructors trained to teach specialised subjects like history of the arts, music from other African countries and theory of the arts and practicals.
Languages and maths will also be offered while business of the performing arts will be a compulsory subject. “We still need more money for equipment and furniture and hope to open doors in 2021.”