Re­becca Ma­lope’s charmed life

Gospel queen Re­becca Ma­lope opens up about her dif­fi­cult child­hood, her abu­sive fa­ther and why she has no re­grets


THE queen of Mzansi’s gospel scene has been busy lately. She was the toast of the South African Mu­sic Awards ( Sa­mas) re­cently, where she was hon­oured with a life­time achieve­ment award; she’s work­ing on a new al­bum; and she’s us­ing her brand-new stu­dio and depth of ex­pe­ri­ence to help ful­fil the dreams of other mu­si­cians. Oh, and she’s about to cel­e­brate her 49th birth­day.

With all this on her plate you’d think Re­becca Ma­lope would be off­ish when we call her up and ask if we can have a slice of her time – but off­ish is the last thing this diminu­tive star could be.

She has a smile as warm as the sum­mer sun as she wel­comes us like old friends when we ar­rive at her state-of-the-art record­ing stu­dio at one of her prop­er­ties in Buc­cleuch, Sand­ton.

Re­becca – or Sis’ Ribs as she’s af­fec­tion­ately called by her army of fans – is still glow­ing af­ter her well-de­served Sama achieve­ment. “It was such an hon­our,” she says. “It’s won­der­ful to be recog­nised.”

Recog­ni­tion is some­thing she de­serves. Three decades in the mu­sic busi­ness have seen her rise to the top of her game and she’s helped boost the ca­reers of dozens of other artists who’ve worked with her along the way. And it seems there’s no stop­ping her. In the stu­dio we meet her pro­ducer, Neil Kuny, who has worked with Re­becca for more than 30 years, as well as the mu­si­cians from her back­ing band. Th­ese young men and women will also have an op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue solo ca­reers when they record their own mu­sic in the new stu­dio.

Re­becca is thrilled to be run­ning her own stu­dio.

“I felt it was time for me to stand on my feet,” she says, ex­plain­ing that work­ing in other stu­dios was al­ways a pres­sured af­fair.

“I used to book a stu­dio for R4 000 a day or R680 an hour to record my mu­sic. I was al­ways un­der pres­sure to fin­ish the record­ing be­cause there were other mu­si­cians who’d also booked the stu­dio.

“I was tired of be­ing told I was run­ning out of bud­get and should fin­ish up quickly. Here in my new stu­dio I have a lot of time. I choose when to record . . . No­body is breath­ing down my neck.”

She wants to use her stu­dio to make Mzansi a bet­ter place for her fel­low mu­si­cians.

“I’m tired of read­ing sto­ries about mu­si­cians who die pau­pers,” she says. “I want to give ev­ery­body who has tal­ent a chance to prove them­selves.’’

AF­TER giv­ing us a grand tour of her stu­dio we move to her man­sion in Kyalami Es­tates north of Joburg. Re­becca also owns a home in Nel­spruit and an­other in Spruitview. She ush­ers us in and can’t help laugh­ing when she sees us ad­mir­ing a dis­play cabi­net full of her mu­sic awards.

“I don’t know how many awards I’ve won,” she says. “There are more than 40 in there and there are some more in the cot­tage at the back.’’

We also saw two awards in the garage house when we ar­rived, we point out.

She laughs again. “Yes, I’m run­ning out of space!”

The singer has two hon­orary doc­tor­ates – from the Univer­sity of KwaZulu- Na­tal and from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia – for her con­tri­bu­tion to mu­sic.

“To be hon­est, I didn’t un­der­stand what an hon­orary doc­tor­ate was at first. I thought if they gave you one, they wanted you to open a surgery! But, ah, it’s a bless­ing.”

Her life wasn’t al­ways blessed though. Grow­ing up in KaNya­mazane out­side Nel­spruit it would be an un­der­state­ment to say her life was hard.

“I just look back and see a beau­ti­ful pic­ture that came out of a gloomy life. God looked af­ter me be­cause the odds were heav­ily stacked against me.”

Re­becca, who turns 49 on 30 June, opens up about her child­hood – one of

the few times she’s delved pub­licly into those dark years.

She was born pre­ma­turely af­ter her fa­ther, John Ma­lope, beat her mother, Paulina Twala, while she was preg­nant. Re­becca was a sickly, un­der­nour­ished child who started walk­ing late, “long af­ter other chil­dren my age were tot­ter­ing about”.

“I left school in Grade 1 be­cause we were so poor. Even our neigh­bours avoi­ded us – they didn’t want to mix with us. They treated us like out­casts be­cause we had noth­ing. We were al­ways strug­gling to sur­vive,’’ she says.

“My mother ran away be­cause my fa­ther beat her al­most ev­ery day. I had to get some money so I started work­ing on a to­bacco farm when I was 11,’’ she says, chok­ing back tears.

When she was 13 Re­becca and her sis­ter, Cyn­thia, left home and went to Ermelo be­cause Cyn­thia wanted to join a mu­sic group called Dan Nkosi and The Vil­lagers.

“But when we got to Ermelo, to our dis­ap­point­ment Dan Nkosi had dis­banded The Vil­lagers.

“My sis­ter and I hitched a ride to Jo­han­nes­burg with noth­ing but the clothes on our backs. We were afraid to go back home be­cause our fa­ther would beat us.”

Re­becca and her sis­ter lived with nine other peo­ple in a small room in Eva­ton near Vereenig­ing.

“We went to Gallo Records but we were re­jected. Some mu­si­cians told me I should go back to school – I was only 14. My sis­ter and I were starv­ing and Jabu Sibumbe, who played bass for Stimela, gave us money for food. He was like a fa­ther to us. Even to­day, he’s like a fa­ther to me.”

LIKE Job in the Bi­ble, who suf­fered tremen­dous hard­ship but would never curse the Lord and was even­tu­ally re­warded for his faith, Re­becca be­lieves God has a plan for her.

“That’s why I al­ways tell peo­ple who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hard knocks to never give up. Keep on push­ing bec­ause you never know – your luck could be

wait­ing just around the cor­ner.”

Af­ter bat­tling her way through her teenage years, her turn­ing point came in 1987 when, at 19, she won the Shell Road to Fame TV mu­sic tal­ent search with the song Shine On in the best fe­male vo­cal­ist cat­e­gory.

De­spite win­ning the con­test she strug­gled to find a record com­pany un­til Mike Fuller of Fuller Artists Man­age­ment En­ter­prise ar­ranged a record­ing con­tract for her and she recorded her first al­bum, Sthem­bele Kuwe.

Af­ter the al­bum’s re­lease she went home to look for her mother, whom she hadn’t seen for many years. She found her liv­ing in an aban­doned car­a­van in a veld in Wit­bank. “I took her in and bought her a three-bed­room house in Spruitview,’’ she re­calls.

Then she wanted to find her fa­ther, a de­ci­sion her mother wasn’t happy about. But Re­becca in­sisted.

“My mother said, ‘How can you do that? This per­son wanted to kill me and he also wanted to kill you’.

“But I said, ‘Mom, he’s my fa­ther. I want to find him and talk to him’. I knew my fa­ther was abu­sive – that’s why I never wanted to get mar­ried. But he was my fa­ther.”

In 1990 Re­becca drove to Nels­pruit and found her fa­ther.

“He told me he didn’t ex­pect me to ever come back. He was sick so I took him back to Jo­han­nes­burg and had him ad­mit­ted to a pri­vate hos­pi­tal.”

Af­ter he was dis­charged she took him to live with her while she was build­ing a dou­ble-storey house for him in Nel­spruit.

“I also bought him a dou­ble- cab bakkie. My fa­ther passed away in 1996, the same year my brother Jonathan died of a heart at­tack and my sis­ter Cyn­thia was shot dead by her boyfriend,’’ she says.

She adopted her sis­ter’s three chil­dren, Zweli (now 37), No­luthando (now 29) and Than­deka (now 25). No­luthando is now Re­becca’s man­ager.

De­spite the many hard­ships she’s faced, Re­becca says she’s grate­ful be­cause God has been good to her.

“I made peace with my fa­ther and I for­gave him be­fore he died. I’m a mother to three beau­ti­ful and won­der­ful chil­dren. I have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer and lovely homes. So I have no re­grets.”

Busi­ness is a fam­ily af­fair for Re­becca. No­luthando, who was adopted by the singer af­ter her mother died, is now her aunt’s man­ager. (Turn over)

ABOVE: Re­becca is a proud “mom” to her sis­ter’s three kids, Zweli (back), No­luthando (left) and Than­deka.

Sis’ Ribs is thrilled to have a record­ing stu­dio in one of her three homes and plans to open it up to artists who are look­ing for a chance to prove them­selves.

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