RISING STAR: Pumeza Matshikiza [PIC: Sarah Nankin]
A SOUTH African opera singer has made history by signing a global record contract with Decca Classics renowned for recording late opera legend Luciano Pavarotti.
Pumeza Matshikiza has had a passion for singing from an early age. However, growing up in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa during the 1980s and 90s as the apartheid regime was coming to an end, she witnessed first-hand the extreme poverty and violence in her country.
She added: “I saw the difference between how black people and white people lived and I had questions in my mind. It was quite strange for me, but as I grew up I began to understand what we were going through.”
Despite living in shacks of cardboard and corrugated iron with bare mud floors, Matshikiza remained ambitious and knew that opera singing was her ticket out of the townships.
She said: “I never gave up on myself and always looked to improve everything that I did."
One day she overheard singing coming from the South African College of Music, and auditioned. When top South African composer Kevin Nolans heard her distinctive voice he bought her a plane ticket to London where she was given a three year full-scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London in 2004.
She said: “The scholarship was amazing. I expected that they might offer me a place, but then say ‘how are you going to sustain yourself in London?’ So for them to give me a scholarship and then be sponsored by Peter Moores (a businessman) for my living expenses was great as I could just focus on my music without the financial worries."
Matshikiza then spent two years on the Young Artist Programme at The Royal Opera House performing and being mentored by international opera singers such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who also recorded for Decca.
Matshikiza then moved to live in Stuttgart, southwest of Germany, and shortly afterwards record producer Dominic Fyfe contacted her after hearing her sing in London in 2008.
She said: “I think this recording deal has enabled me to go from strength to strength, which is something exciting for me.”
Matshikiza said that her debut album, due to be released at the end of the year, will depict her inspiring life journey from South Africa to Europe.
She said: “The album is very unique because it has two parts, South African music and opera music, which has never been done before. I'm really looking forward to it bringing something new and breaking new ground with it."
A song called Invictus, based on the poem Mandela had on the wall of cell on Robben Island may also be featured, but is yet to be commissioned.
“The poem is beautiful as it kept him going. When I read it through it described my life and what I thought about my own life,” Matshikiza said. “Mandela is someone who fought for freedom, justice and reconciliation, and the next step, which I think is lacking at the moment is going to be for others to follow on improving the lives of all black South Africans and that is not happening and it should be happening.”
The opera singer added: “In my country there is a lot of corruption, and lack of education. Whatever happened with freedom hasn't trickled down to the bottom which is very worrying, because we all know the future of any country depends on the quality of education.”