Opera star, Njabulo Madlala is one of South Africa’s best-known operatic exports, but life has not always been easy for this ex-Durbanite.
We asked opera singer Njabulo Madlala, who will be performing in London next month, how he got to where he is today, and who his major influences were.
Madlala was raised by his single mother, who, although she could not always provide financially for him, lavished him with love, and he attributes much of his success to the love his mother, extended family and community showed him while he was growing up.
Madlala knows what it feels like to be poor. In fact, for much of his schooling, he was only able to attend school twice or three times a week because his family had no money for bus fare. Aware of the importance of education, he would sell whatever he could to raise money for the bus to ensure he could attend school as regularly as possible.
Madlala’s grandmother was “the strongest force” in his family. She worked as a domestic worker and was an intense lover of music. Madlala grew up listening to her singing and humming Zulu folk songs and lullabies, and although she was a quiet woman, she found peace and solace in music.
Madlala recalls, “Her prayer was also in song. I went to bed listening to her singing. There was something so special in her voice; I used to get goosebumps each time I think about it. She could easily have been a professional singer, her voice was really that good.
She was such an influence in my life and her life and journey mean so much to me. To this very day, I can hear her voice so clearly – mellow, dark, so rich in texture – just like the best sort of chocolate you can treat yourself to.”
One of his grandmother’s employers once threw away some old opera cassette tapes which she brought home. When Madlala heard them, he couldn’t stop listening. He recalls having never heard anything like that in his community.
Those tapes helped seal his fate. He told his family that after school he wanted to become an opera singer and travel the world.
Madlala remembers how he just knew that tertiary education would be an impossibility for him because of his financial situation.
“I was never going to be able to step through the doors of a university. I was never to become anything like that in life. It was a painful time, but each time I found myself escaping and getting lost in the music. I figured I needed to make my life work using singing and music. Although it was not clear how, it was my only hope and it saved my life.”
Madlala’s first break came when he was part of the chorus in a production of Carmen, produced by the Spier Arts Festival.
“It was a job and at the time I had very little option. It gave me money to buy my mother and the rest of our family food. That Carmen production went on to tour the world and still singing in the chorus, I set off for London.”
Realizing his need to keep going and not to return home where his options were far more limited, Madlala made some enquiries and decided to visit the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal College School of Music and Drama.
He was given the opportunity to audition outside of the official audition period, but this opportunity proved that he was at the right place at the right time, as he was offered the opportunity to prepare a piece and return in two weeks for an official audition.
Madlala recalls, “As I could not read music, I simply bought myself a recording and learnt the arias that way. After two weeks I was ready to audition. At the end of the audition, I was offered a full scholarship and the rest is history!”
To attend the concert in February, book tickets via this link or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Thursday, 8 February 2018
Time: 18:30 – 21:30
Venue: South African High Commission, Trafalgar Square
Funds raised from the event will go towards supporting 35 singers and their 10 teachers as they embark on a two-week intensive training programme in South Africa on 14-27 February.
Donations: If you cannot make it but would still like to support the initiative, please do so on our online campaign by following this link.