Kay Mosiane pays tribute to Sibongile Khumalo
My relationship with Dr Sibongile Khumalo is one I’ve mostly imagined in my head the soundtrack of the happiest memories of my childhood and early life is mostly her voice. And then I started getting older and decided to maybe take this singing thing a little further. Training classically but knowing I wanted to sing something else. So naturally, my obsession with her went further than just listening to her music because it was so bloody good. But now I was analysing every breath, every vowel, every note. I would imagine her in my practice room, advising me on everything from technique to performance. I told you, mostly in my head. But I learned so much from her, before I even met her.
And then it happened. I met her. During one of the greatest weekends of my life.
In 2018, I was working at National Arts Festival Makhanda during Masicule, an annual concert of voices where local choirs and singing groups slay the audience and then cap it off with a finale starring a guest artist and all the voices on one stage. The 2018 guest artist: (yip, you guessed it) Dr Sibongile Khumalo. I legit thought
Tony Lankester and Nicci [Spalding] were lying when they told me this. The build-up to the show was exciting to me. Knowing everything we were doing would eventually culminate with me meeting her. Quite possibly sharing the stage with her (as singer number 634 in row 7 on stage: GOALS!) and production manage the show at the same time. Great
And then something happened. Dr Khumalo was only set to arrive the day of the show, and the production needed a stand in for the tech run to ‘be her’ and practice with the choir and bands. Apparently everyone had already unanimously decided the stand in would be me. It was show day, I was running around like crazy managing a building of over 800 school kids but I saw this as a moment to sing my hero’s music with a live band and choir. But if I was on stage doing sound check, I would not know when she arrived in the building. I had one VERY IMPORTANT condition: the second she walked into the building, someone on the NAF team needed to stop whatever I was doing and tell me immediately. ESPECIALLY if I was singing. My voice was not at its best, a cold was creeping and I would be dammed if my idol of life walked in on me singing her songs with below average skill. Remember, I’d dreamed of this woman. Our meeting would NOT happen like this.
So I made everyone promise.
Cut to Kay getting her life on stage; singing along with as much energy as I could muster and taking in such a glorious moment. Everyone sounded incredible. Even the legend would get goosebumps from this.
Music stops. Time to scatter everyone and start preparing for the show. But something is weird. The group of VG girls closest to me is looking to stage right and losing their minds. I don’t know, good looking member of the crew maybe? I turn around only to find…
She’d been standing there the whole set, watching me. Apparently she insisted on watching a moment before coming on herself.
I peed. Legit, I peed.
She calmly walked up to me, as the crowd quickly started to realize she had arrived and started to cheer. I stood frozen as she whispered in my ear: “You are phenomenal. Well done, my girl.”
And that’s the story of how I died. You are currently reading a post from a cloned version of me that we kept hidden somewhere in the event of something so out of this world happening to me, that my actual soul left my physical body. So there you go.
Ok but in all seriousness, the next two days were the best of my life. Although it all went by in a dreamlike daze.
I watched my hero sing live, I got to talk to her uninterrupted and ask her everything I could remember to ask while slightly paralysed. I pulled myself together and took every singers remedy imaginable so that I could participate in a master class with her. I learned how incredibly kind, smart and funny she was. I learned how to carry myself professionally while not compromising being kind to everyone.
The coolest part of the weekend: she watched Armand Steenkamp and I get engaged and was one of the first people to congratulate me on one of the biggest moments of my life.
In hearing of the passing of Mam Khumalo, I remembered a short monologue in one of my favourite films:
“When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written “He dies.” That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is “He dies.” It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with “He dies.” And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it’s only natural to be sad, but not because of the words “He dies.” but because of the life we saw prior to the words…”
I’ve been reading tributes since yesterday. I’ve been replaying our conversations. I’ve been thinking about her voice, her music, her gift.
She was a once in a lifetime kind of musician. Once in a lifetime kind of person. She changed my life.
And she has died.
My deepest and sincerest condolences to her family, friends, and the countless people who are forever changed because of this phenomenal woman
* Kay Mosiane is a music teacher at Stirling High School, East London. She previously worked as production assistant at the National Arts Festival. We asked her permission to share this personal tribute.