Pumeza Matshikiza

So continuing with my weekend series of inspiring video shorts about black musicians who are breaking boundaries and “thinking outside the box”, here’s number two of three.

Today we focus on opera singer Pumeza Matshikiza who has just signed a recording contact with the major classical music label Decca Classics, who, in turn, has produced a short video in which Ms. Matshikiza goes back to the townships of Cape Town, South Africa where she was born and raised to talk about her very humble beginnings.

In a recent interview, she talked about the journey of her life, participating in anti-apartheid demonstrations when she was a very young child, even being attacked by the police with tear gas. She even witnessed people being “necklaced” (tires filled with gasoline placed around a person’s neck and being set on fire) right in front of her.

She started singing in church choirs along with her mother, but when she heard her first opera on the radio as a teenager, that’s when her life changed. As she said:  "I didn't know anything about opera, but when I found that channel, I started to listen to it because it was so beautiful. After that I listened to that station almost every evening."

But her teachers and peers convinced her that there was no future in classical music and she actually was planning to become a surveyor at first, but stuck to her dreams and studied voice at the University of Cape Town.

She got a job performing in a puppet show and the producer of the show was so impressed with her voice that he convinced her to apply to the Royal College of Music in London which she did and was immediately accepted.  

The rest is history. 

She is currently under contract to the Stuttgart Opera and performs in other opera houses and recitals all over the world, attracting the attention of Decca Classics who quickly signed her up.

However, one major decision which Ms. Matshikiza made was in refusing to change her name after moving to the UK, on the suggestion of some people. As she says: “If they can learn to pronounce (Russian opera singers) Elena Obraztsova, Dmitri Hvorostovski and Galina Vishnevskaya (..or even Anna Netrebko for that matter to add another Russian opera singer’s name) they will learn to say Matshikiza.”

But she’s not alone. There are other South African opera singers who are making major names for themselves such as Pretty Yende (who shared the same vocal coach in South Africa with Ms. Matshikiza) who is already the toast of the Met Opera in New York, the Vienna State Opera and elsewhere, and who currently has, according to major music critic Norman Lebrecht “every major classical label running after her with open mouths and chequebooks.”

And there’s also soprano Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi, who is currently with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, who grew up in Soweto South Africa and has talked openly about the hardships growing up there as a young child.

All these musicians, like the sixth grade heavy metal band Unlocking the Truth I wrote about yesterday, are following their own paths; and though they have been written about in the mainstream media, they are still literally ignored by the editors of black media.

The reason being is, in the case of the opera singers, that they’re African which means they’re “foreign,” and like Truth, they all refuse to be “put in a box” and even worse “they’re not doing what black people are supposed to be doing.”

But we have no problem with that here.

Here’s the short about Ms. Matshikiza: