The colours and sounds of Africa came alive here last week through the mesmerising music of Peki Emelia Nothembia Mkhwebane, known as the African queen of Ndebele music.
The Ndebele musical tradition derives from the culture of the ethnic Zulu people of South Africa.
Makhwebane enthralled a near-full house at the FICCI auditorium Saturday evening on the final day of the Days of South Africa in India festival, organised jointly by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and South Africa's Department of Art and Culture.
To repeated cries of encore, Mkhwenabe and her band gave a spectacular performance combining music and song with an energetic, spellbinding dance. She led the performance with her high pitched, soulful voice and electric guitar while the dancers entranced with their traditional costumes, coloured in vivid hues with intricate bead and metalwork.
With songs like Angekhe Angijhiye (Jesus is great, will always be with me) and Igama (I have worked for my name), all sung in Ndebele with backup vocals, the performance was a vivid demonstration of how South African music is a dialogue with various forms and their hybridisation. ‘My music takes from both rural and urban traditions,’ Mkhwebane, who composes her songs, said.
‘Music is a vital part of everyday life in Africa. It is always there in religious ceremonies, festivals, and social rituals. Everyone plays an active part in the musical life of the community,’ she said.
For someone who has taken Ndebele culture to the world, Mkhwebane's life mirrors the history of multicultural South Africa. Orphaned at the age of five, and unable to have a formal education, she learnt to play the reed flute from her grandmother and the guitar from her uncle.
Mkhwebane has travelled extensively abroad, performing in the United States, Europe and Australia. She has many awards to her credit. These include the Tourism Ambassador for South Africa, the South African Music Award and more.