An icon who learnt from the best
Mbongeni Ngema continues to add a spice of excellence to his work
EVERY ARTIST OR CREATOR HAS A SPECIAL TOUCH
IN 1979, an unwavering spirit and an intense love for the arts led all-round master of arts, Dr Mbongeni Ngema, to Soweto because he wanted to learn from the late legendary Gibson Kente. That leap of faith took him to a destiny he knew in his heart was meant for him because it earned him international honour and accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s South African Music Awards. Perhaps, that is why it is not possible to ignore him when he says that most of the people on TV aren’t trained to be actors. “They are models not actors,” the 62-year-old icon says.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
“The greatest decision I ever did for myself was to leave Durban,” Mbongeni says. He went to Gibson’s house because he wanted to learn from the best creator, composer, director and producer there was.
“When I got there he rejected me. I didn’t leave, I slept in his garage next to his car,” he says.
While those who were already working with the late Gibson rehearsed, he watched for three months. “So many times he told me to go back home but I refused. He would give me money to go back but I just bought kota with it,” he says with a laugh.
When he was finally given an opportunity to become part of the pool of talented young people at Gibson’s house, he felt like life had just begun for him. Mbongeni was raised by parents who were not convinced by his love for his guitar, instead they never really took him seriously.
“In the 1980s, when a play I created, Woza Albert, toured internationally they could see that really I had done well for myself. When I came back from touring overseas, my father was on his deathbed and I gave him a lot of money. He was so happy,” he says. “Soon after, my mother saw the play and she wept as she hugged me.”
EXCELLENCE AND LEGACY
Recently, Asinamali, a play created decades ago has now turned into a movie. It received a standing ovation in New York and it will be showing in Mzansi in August.
There are a few things that Mbongeni has not done. One of the milestones he wants to reach is opening an academy for the arts where he will groom young artists. He says there is something that has kept him reaching levels he has in the arts.
“Every artist or creator has a special touch they add into their work,” he says. “There is just this spice of excellence that I add. I’m able to see a play in my mind and that gives me direction.”
THE BEAT GOES ON
Although he has reached a level of success many have not, he says he will keep on going. Sarafina! The Musical is currently showing in Joburg Theatre and he is also working on Nelson Mandela The Musical too.
“It gives me great pleasure to still do what I love, although it is disheartening that even after the new democratic dispensation, we still get funding for our stories from outside of South Africa. This is something that needs to change,” he says.