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Pumeza Sings African Opera

Pumeza Matshikiza grew up in a township outside Cape Town in Apartheid South Africa. At the time black South Africans were given few opportunities, so her struggle to find her path and follow her dream has so much more meaning.

Pumeza had a difficult childhood. Her mother worked hard for long hours and Pumeza spent a lot of time with her extended family in informal settlements. She sang in the church choir from an early age, but when she was in her teens, she found opera. Her first exposure was on the radio. She fell in love and was totally entranced. She visited the library often to borrow LPs (long-playing records) to immerse herself in the wonders of the operatic world.

When Pumeza finished school she was hesitant about her career path, so took a year out to think about what she truly wanted. She decided to audition for the South African College of music, where she was discovered by the composer Kevin Volans. He was so very impressed with her talent that he paid for a ticket to London for an audition at the Royal College of Music. Here too she impressed and was awarded a full scholarship.

She left South Africa in 2004 and since then has work and collaborated with some of the most prestigious voices and creative minds in the opera world. Her Curriculm Vitae includes the Stuttgart State Opera, the English Concert Orchestr, the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in Denmark, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Royal Opera House and a feature on CNN. She has been on a European tour with tenor Rolando Villazon and her World Premier was with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London. Pumeza recorded her debut album at the Abbey Road Studios in London where The Beatles produced some of their most famous and well-known songs.

The South African soprano was selected to sing at the Opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. She sang an anthem to freedom in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, with a Scottish accent, which she says was very difficult. But after watching clips on youtube, she thought, “This is singable” and then sang it in her own elegant, African style.

Her recent music is a mixture of African songs with an operatic twist. South African songs have a very different sound with a large orchestra behind them, but she has taken traditional folk songs from her native South Africa, mostly made famous by Miriam Makeba, and transformed them to give them a European setting, using Mozart and Puccini as a foundation.

The sound is very different from the spontaneity that comes with African folk music, but Pumeza is very happy with the end product which was inspired by a William Ernest Henley poem made famous by the late South African statesman, Nelson Mandela, called ‘Invictus’. "It's a beautiful poem and it fits everyone who's gone through a bad patch -- it gives hope, ” says Pumeza.

Her goal at the moment is to take time to develop herself and her operatic sounds. She wants to gain all the knowledge she can to pass on to others. This remarkable woman has battled against all the odds to become "one of today's most exciting new operatic voices" according to the British based Independent newspaper. The operatic world will never be the same now that it has been introduced to the wonderful sounds of Africa and enhanced by the incredibly talented Pumeza Matshikiza.

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