Singer Letta Mbulu inspires young artists at UP

Posted on August 25, 2016

The Department of Drama collaborates with the Living Legends Legacy project (supported by the Department of Arts and Culture) in offering a series of guest lectures by artists who have shaped the landscape of the performing arts in South Africa. The Living Legends Legacy project was launched by Arts and Culture Minister Mr Nathi Mthethwa in 2015 to promote the arts and to document and archive the works of South African artists who were marginalised by the Apartheid regime. The project foregrounds the telling of South African stories and aims to engage with younger generations in the telling of these stories. A further aim of the project is to foster the sharing of skills, knowledge and experience.

In the spirit of Women’s Month, the first lecture in this series was presented by legendary singer and performer Letta Mbulu on Friday, 19 August, at the Masker Theatre.

Ms Mbulu shared her life story with the audience, recounting her days as a young girl in Soweto, becoming the songbird who starred in the musical King Kong and sang her way out of Apartheid South Africa, and her return to the country of her birth in 1991. She gave the audience a glimpse of the nearly insurmountable obstacles that characterised her life in South Africa before she went into exile in 1965. Hers is an inspiring story of resilience, dedication, perseverance and passion tied to her extraordinary talent. She worked with luminaries such as Miriam Makeba, whom she admired and emulated, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and American music legends such as Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. Her mentor was another American music legend, Harry Belafonte, whom she worked with and learnt from over a period of 14 years. She referred to her husband, Caiphus Semenya, as her mainstay through all the trials, tribulations and successes of her long and illustrious career.

Her reminder that artists have a responsibility to engage with critical issues and use their art in the service of education and social responsiveness located her talk in a framework that supports notions around the arts and social justice – a principle in line with the ethos of the Department of Drama. She also addressed the need to develop the various skills an artist needs to become competitive in a demanding professional world – highlighting the importance of life-long learning, dedication, reliability, honing a craft, actively searching for (and generating) opportunities and building networks. Her focus on continuous hard work was an important lesson for aspiring young artists. She urged them to cultivate an entrepreneurial mind-set and to create their own work. The warning that one should never rest on one’s laurels and should keep on working on one’s art and craft are sober reminders of the continuous personal investment that excellence demands.

The next Living Legends Legacy lecture will take place on 9 September.


- Author Department of Drama

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