Mteto Maphoyi, a would-be opera singer from Hermanus set social media ablaze after a video of him singing outside of Bloubergstrand restaurant, Ons Huisie went viral in October.
The 28-year-old – who now lives in Parklands, Cape Town – busks outside of popular restaurants for a living, hoping to get his big break in opera and doesn’t mind people taking videos of him and sharing them on social media.
“I don’t have money to pay for my education, so I perform outside restaurants to be recognised and perhaps get help to make my dream of becoming a professional opera singer a reality,” he said.
During one performance on 25 October, a woman by the name of Nicolene Smith took a video of Mteto singing the legendary Pavarotti’s Nessum Dorma and posted it on Facebook, with the video getting more than 10 000 shares and opening up doors for Mteto that he never thought possible.
“On the Thursday afternoon when the video was taken, I wasn’t feeling very good about myself, but desperately needed to go to Hermanus the following day, so I needed to perform to get some money,” he said.
“Nicolene’s dad gave me some cash and requested I sing a Pavarotti song,” he added.
On the post, Nicolene tagged Mteto and added his contact details should anyone want to book him for an event.
A businessman named Bruce Wiedand, who specialises in private security in Dubai gave the ambitious man a call after watching the video and expressed how impressed he was at Mteto’s talents.
“He then asked me if I wanted to come and meet up with him in Dubai and although I was overjoyed and excited, I didn’t have a visa or money to travel there,” he said.
“Bruce then told me he’d organise everything from accommodation to a visa, hotel and ticket and at the beginning of November, I spent five days in the beautiful, exotic country. It was one of the best experiences of my life,”
Mteto was interviewed by Virgin Radio Dubai, visited three local schools and taught the kids what he knows about music, but the cherry on top of his adventure was visiting Dubai Opera house.
“I performed a song in the opera house, and although there was no audience, it felt absolutely magical and I could see my dreams come to light in front of me.”
Mteto first fell in love with opera at the age of nine and was inspired by his mother, the late Lumka Maphoyi (51) who would sing in the church choir.
“I would listen to my mother’s opera CDs and would imitate the singers, that’s how I taught myself different songs,” he said.
Mteto and two other young singers on his street named Thulani Myeki (29) and Mzwamadoda Nkanunu (29) started singing in town in Hermanus in 2000, inspired by the older singers in the neighbourhood – later four other singers would join the group.
In 2003, Mteto was featured in a documentary directed by Odette Geldenhuys called Being Pavarotti, the film following the journeys of Mteto and five other Tenors that would perform in the township of Zwelihle in Hermanus.
“After the documentary was made, the organisers of the whale festival wanted to help us get an education, organise singing gigs for us and assist us with building our careers in a professional way,” he said.
“The only condition was that we would no longer be able to busk on the streets of Hermanus,” he added.
The tenors however, continued to perform on the streets and demanded that the whale festival organisers – who paid them a little bit of money after every gig – give them more cash after every performance.
“We didn’t understand that the funds raised during the performances were going to be used to pay of our education and uniforms we could sing in,” Mteto admits.
In 2004, Mteto and his friend, Athenkosi Jaza, went to Cape Town and decided to perform in Waterfront.
He also stopped attending Qayiya Secondary School at the age of 16 because he was getting R500 a day from his gigs at Waterfront.
“I now realise how important education is and want to complete matric and study at university in order to get paid what I deserve for my gigs,” he said.
In 2004, a French television crew made a documentary about his singing and a man by the name of Rupert who lived in London who saw the film decided to help with his formal musical education.
“In September 2005, I went to London after Rupert organised everything for me and I was going to study at Guildhall School of Music and Drama,”
However, because his English was poor, he was sent to St. Andres College in Grahamstown to spend 18 months and learn to perfect the language, but because the school got a new headmaster, Mteto was told he had to wait another year before going to Guildhall.
In July 2007, he started singing with Cape Town opera and spent a year with the company.
In 2008, tragedy struck. Mteto lived in Nyanga and was trying to break up a fight between his cousin and his friend when suddenly his cousin stabbed him from his temple to his throat, shattering his dreams of going to London that September to attend the music school as he wasn’t even able to talk properly, much less sing.
Things were going really bad for Mteto and that very same year, his mother fell ill because of her HIV and passed away, leaving the young man shattered.
In 2010, the tenor was featured in another documentary called The Creators after he was completely healed and able to sing again.
In 2012, a woman who saw the doccie got in contact with him and took him to New York where he did a Ted Talk.
The father-of-one then spent two-and-a-half years with an opera company called the Black Tie Ensemble before the company was terminated and he had to go back to waiting tables at a restaurant at the Waterfront from 2014 until 2016 – with Mteto busking ever since.
In May, Mteto met Lizette Pretorius – a music teacher, pianist and organist – at Blue Peter restaurant in Bloubergstrand and she agreed to teach him the theory of music in January 2019.
He also performed at a service held at her church and dazzled all with his gorgeous voice and confidence.
He ends by saying, “Although my journey has been a long one, I haven’t lost sight of my dream of educating myself and becoming a professional opera sing,”