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

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid