BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Music
BBC Radio 3

Radio 3

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

World On Your Street: The Global Music Challenge
Sonti Mndebele
Send us your review:
Describe the atmosphere and live music at a local pub, restaurant, festival, church or temple, club night.... inspire other people to check it out!

Musician: Sonti Mndebele

Location: London

Instruments: voice

Music: South African / World fusion

HOW I CAME TO THIS MUSIC          WHERE I PLAY          A FAVOURITE SONG Click here for Hande Domac's storyClick here for Mosi Conde's storyClick here for Rachel McLeod's story

Andy Kershaw In Session
Listen to more music from
Sonti Mndebele
and Mbawulu
The Home of Black Websites

Listen  Listen (7'24) to ‘Banoyi’, sung by Sonti Mndebele and accompanied by Mbawula and the Manhattan Brothers in session on the Andy Kershaw programme, BBC Radio 3.

Listen  Listen (2'33) to Sonti Mndebele talk about her music

'It was my dream to be a lead singer so I’d watch all the lead performers, especially Miriam Makeba and model myself on them’

How I came to this music:

As a child I was always singing, be it at school or in church. We’d sing South African folk songs and gospel. Even in the chorus, all I ever wanted to do was sing lead like Miriam Makeba. My parents had lots of her records so I’d listen to them and model myself on her. My father also loved to sing. Even though he wasn’t a very good singer, he forced our church choir to take him on. He used to take me to musicals where I’d be transfixed by the lead performers. After the shows, I’d say to my father, ‘You see that singer, when I grow up I’m going to be like her’.

My parents weren’t keen on me being a professional musician. They wanted me to study and get a useful job. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish my studies because I fell pregnant. That was my passport to go into music because once I had my child, I couldn’t go back to school.

One evening in 1974, I was at a party where they were playing Miriam Makeba songs so I started singing. Little did I know that some of the guests were lead performers in ‘How Long’, the most popular South African musical of the time. They were so impressed by my voice that they came with me immediately to meet my parents and arrange for an audition. I was successful and that was the start of my professional career.

By 1976, I had to go into exile in Botswana because I was involved in the Soweto Rising. That was a very painful time. My parents would come with my child to visit me at the weekends. Luckily I met good people there and soon established a career. In 1979, whilst performing at a festival, the leader of Jabula, a London-based South African group, complemented me on my voice so I begged him to bring me to London. Instead he recommended me to another musical group based in Hamburg. So in 1980 I moved to Germany. Within two years I came to London where I was invited to join Epitombi for a tour of West Africa.

Around that time, Hugh Masekele was in London scouting for talent so he invited me on board. I toured the US with him, met Miriam Makeba and worked with them both for the next ten years. In between I did my own freelance work performing with artists like Tina Turner, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Lionel Richie.

[next page]
// page 1 | 2 | 3

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy