News / Asia

Rising South Africa Opera Singer Steps on World Stage

Bongiwe Nakani and Thesele Kemane, graduate students at the University of Cape Town Opera School, sing at a special UN event honoring Nelson Mandela, 18 July 2012. (UN photo/Devra Berkowitz)
Bongiwe Nakani and Thesele Kemane, graduate students at the University of Cape Town Opera School, sing at a special UN event honoring Nelson Mandela, 18 July 2012. (UN photo/Devra Berkowitz)
Rising South African opera singer Bongiwe Nakani had an international audience at this year's United Nations General Assembly in New York when she performed for world leaders celebrating Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday. 

Bongiwe Nakani is one of South Africa's rising opera stars.  Although she has sung in front of heads of state, she seems embarrassed before an audience of family and neighbors.

Pursuing her dream

Nakani grew up in Cape Town's infamous Khayelitsha township, an area known for high crime, unemployment, teenage pregnancies, and high rate of HIV/AIDS.

The 21-year-old mezzo-soprano lived in a small house with her foster mother and three sisters. Nakani says growing up, she had to fight to beat the odds to pursue her dream.

"When you grow up in that kind of environment, you must have two choices: it's either you're with the bad side, or you choose your own way to survive, so I choose the other way," she said. "I wanted to study;  I wanted to make something out of myself, because few people from here who have made it out there.  That's why I chose to go the other way and forget about what is happening here.

Nakani started singing at a young age.  She joined a choir and was introduced to opera when she was in high school.  Nakani says she likes the acting that comes with an operatic performance.

Nakani's biological mother, Nobambo Nakani, said she did not expect her daughter to choose opera as a career.

The elder Nakani says she was surprised when her daughter said she wanted to become an opera singer.  Nobambo Nakani says she herself and others in the community considered opera too sophisticated.

A challenging environment

Bongiwe Nakani says her community had limited exposure to opera.

"South Africa does not have a lot of opera.  Like here in Cape Town, we only have one opera house; it's just the Cape Town opera, unlike overseas.  So people here were not very exposed to opera music.  We were told it's from Europe, America.  So people still think it's not our music.  It's like foreign music," she explained.

Here, at the University of Cape Town's music department, Nakani is in her element.  She is still a student, but her career is advancing quickly.  Earlier this year, she was chosen to sing at the United Nations General Assembly in celebration of Nelson Mandela's birthday.  And then she spent three months in New York, selected for an exchange program during which she performed on stage.

Hard work paying off

Patrick Tikolo has been Nakani's teacher the past four years.  He says she has special qualities that make her stand out.

"She never takes education for granted," he said. "She is one of those students who are so hungry to know, she wants to know more.  One thing I know for sure about Bongiwe as well, is the fact that she would to anything to be on stage.  She loves being on stage; she loves to sing."

Tikolo says that singing opera takes more discipline than any other genre.

"One has got to be dedicated," he said. "You can be a singer, you can sing jazz, you can sing pop, you can sing gospel, all of those.  But for being an opera singer, it calls for a little bit more."

Nakani's dream is to play Rosina in the Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  And nothing seems to be able to stop this young woman from Khayelitsha from realizing her dream.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs