Celebrity – Lebo Sekgobela
Gospel singer, LEBO SEKGOBELA, 36, reflects on her tumultuous childhood, marriage and reaching international stardom.
It’s rare that a gospel song hits the number one spot in a Top 40 chart of an urban radio station like Metro FM. What’s even rarer is that the same song competed against kwaito, hip hop and house music for Song of the Year at the recent Metro FM Music Awards. Lebo Sekgobela’s hit track, Lion of Judah, is changing the game. Even more admirable is that it isn’t just topping local charts – it also features in Nigeria’s top 10 most-played songs on radio.
“I first heard the song at a conference in Durban in 2015. Singer and songwriter Matsetse Matthews wrote it and when I heard him sing it, I was inspired. It spoke to me. The lyrics mention how we shouldn’t be fearful but rather put our trust in God and let Him lead us to where we are meant to be,” she says.
In that year of meeting Matsetse, Lebo had been working on her current double-platinum album, Restored, which she released in July 2016. By September, it had reached gold status and today it’s Musica’s top selling album. The initial plan was to collaborate with Matsetse on the song, but that didn’t work out. Matsetse had written Lion of
Judah in 2000, but it would be 16 years before it’d take off. The songstress’ musical career dates back to 2000 but it was with her 2011 third album, Ithemba
Lam, that things started picking up. “I believe Restored has done wonders not just for me, but for others in the gospel
“MY HUSBAND WAS MY FIRST BOYFRIEND, FIRST KISS AND EVERYTHING ELSE.”
fraternity too. Lion of Judah shows that all of us can make it. I pinched myself every time it reached number one on the charts or local iTunes ratings. I wanted to emphasise to listeners that they must believe in God. Know that He is in control of everything in our lives, and allow Him to put you on a path He wants for you,” says the mom of three, who’s an independent artist that prefers being hands on and in control of her sound.
Lebo’s never ventured into other genres and won’t do so ever, she says. To her gospel is quite intimate and it’s as if she’s singing a love song. What about other work she’s done outside of music? “After matric I worked as an administrator in an IT company. After that, and for most of my adult life, I was a personal assistant for a pastor at my local church. I loved seeing lives being transformed through the work of God as it affirmed to me that things have a way of working themselves out. Working in church made me believe my music career would skyrocket.” Lebo has also worked as a backing vocalist for Vicky Vilakazi and William Sejake, and did you know she’s the voice behind popular Khumbulekhaya’s opening jingle?
Born in the Vaal in Gauteng, Lebo and her five siblings were raised by their domestic worker mother. Their shack in Residencia burnt down in 1986 and they sought refuge with their grandmother in Everton until they moved to Orange Farm, where she started singing in church and at school. The singer reflects on the harsh reality of growing up with a mother who worked away from home. “My mom missed a lot of milestones in our lives. We’d visit her workplace on weekends. It’s painful having the anchor of the family away,” she adds. “My elder sisters looked after us; they too had to adjust and assume parental roles. In hindsight, we all grew a strong bond as siblings. Now that we’re grown and have our own families, we make sure we don’t miss out on anything. As a musician, I always feel guilty that by being away for gigs, I’m doing also missing out on my children’s milestones. I make sure that whenever I’m home I spend time with my kids: my first-born is 20 now, and studying law. My second child is 14 and my last (and only boy) is nine.”
The singer wedded young to Lucky, in 1997 and says it was love at first sight. “Twenty years later, we’re still crazy in love. Prayer and trust is the glue that keeps us together.”
Lucky is her manager so the couple are always together. “He’s caring and spoils me to bits. After each performance, he insists that I rest. He’s a very hands-on father; he takes the kids to school and makes sure they are ready every morning. He’s a blessing in my life.”
Life, as Lebo reflects, hasn’t always been this great. She’s gets emotional she relates how she bacame a victim of sexual abuse. She was raped twice by different men during her childhood. “You never get over rape; it lives with you forever. I recently drove past the street where the second incident happened. It’s such a busy street; why didn’t anyone Why didn’t anyone see me?,” she breaks down. “I accept it; I have to. The first time it happened I was eight. My sister had asked me to accompany a male friend of hers to get money from a house in another area,” she continues. “On the way, we took a quicker route t through the neighbourhood’s school. During a stop at the school’s loo that’s where it happened,” she says taking a deep breath. “When he was done, he threatened to kill me if I ever said a word about this. As if nothing had happened and he hadn’t changed my life forever, we set off again. When we got the money, he sent me off on my own.”
Traumatised and stunned that a family friend would do that to her, Lebo says she didn’t tell anyone. With the second incident, the singer was 11 years old; the culprit, a neighbour. This time her sisters had gone somewhere and her mother wanted Lebo to join them. “The neighbour said he knew the place and offered to drive Lebo there. While waiting for her sisters to come out of the house they were in. He raped me in the car. He also threatened to kill me if she said a word to anyone.”
Then Lebo met and Lucky and showed her how a woman should be treated. Feeling safe in him Lebo confided in Lucky. He convinced her to tell her sisters and later her mother, who were all understandably shocked. “I read an article on rape in one magazine, and that’s when I knew I had to speak out. It explained thoroughly what had happened to me. I got a better understanding that I wasn’t the only person who had gone through it. I understood I shouldn’t be ashamed, as it wasn’t my fault. It’s sad that rape isn’t spoken about and that there’s a belief that you did something wrong and somehow allowed it.”
“The shame that comes with rape is unbearable. I didn’t embrace my body and always wanted to hide it. I didn’t want to be attractive or sexy. I used to suspect any guy who approached me. That’s why I didn’t date in my teens. My husband is my first boyfriend, first kiss and everything else.” The gospel star says she speaks openly about her sexual abuse to help others.
Lebo’s in a great space and now holds her head up high. This year she’ll embark on a national tour to promote Restore and keep in touch with fans. She continues with community work by giving donations to various orphanage homes in Orange Farm. She also has hopes to release a DVD. It’s clear the songstress is making her mark, as many fans feature her music in their feel-good playlists. A video of a little girl singing
Lion of Judah word for word went viral recently and celebs like Manaka Ranaka posted the lyrics of the song on their social media platforms to inspire others.
“What’s happening now with the track reminds me of the book of Jeremiah, where God says to him, ‘When you were formed in your mother’s womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.’ I didn’t know I’d be a vessel used by God to touch people. I’m still amazed when fans approach me to say how much my music inspires them. Things like that motivate me to do even better,” she beams.