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 Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid