Briefly – Townships, African songs and opera: SA singer shines on the world stage


– Pumeza Matshikiza’s early life was very much influenced by struggle violence in South African townships in the last decades of apartheid

– From an accidental introduction to the artform, flowed an enduring love for opera music

– On her first album, Voice of Hope, Matshikiza pays homage to her country of birth, while showing her skills in her interpretations of famous operatic arias

The last decades of apartheid created many South African songs – of pain, praise, division, harmony. Yet songs are only ever as powerful as their singers, and in 1979, almost two decades before the official end of apartheid, a unique voice was born. A voice of hope that would go on to sing the beautiful songs of home, but also the arias of the high European art: opera.

Pumeza Matshikiza was born in 1979 in Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape, 380km from Port Elizabeth, and 14, 787km from Dallas, Texas, where, in March 2019, Pumeza will be singing the role of Mimi in Puccini’s beloved opera, La bohème. It seems that enormous distances form part of the remarkable life of this South African talent, recognized as one of the most exciting operatic voices in the world.

In one sense it would be fair to say that Pumeza has come a long way from Lady Frere, singing in, amongst others, Vienna, New York, Paris, and settling in London. Yet in truth, her journey has never enlarged the distance between her heart and where she grew up – the townships of Cape Town.

“We kept on moving because my mother was always looking for somewhere that might be a slightly better place to live,” she said during an interview with The Independent, and the histories of the Cape townships show communities divided, hurt, angry, and unsafe. The dissonance between her accidentally discovered budding love of opera, and an African nation throwing off the chains of oppression, caused some to discourage Pumeza from pursuing music.

The music of Dvorak, Bizet, Puccini and co. must be thankful for her persistence. In 2014, Pumeza released her first album – and it in listening to opera and Africa on one album, truly hears why the album is called Voice of Hope.