Solid as A ROCK

The mar­riage of­WORLD-RENOWNED mu­si­cians LETTA MBULU, 72, and CAI­PHUS SE­MENYA, 75, has stood the test of time. She tells us how they keep their LOVE ALIVE.

True Love Bride - - Cover Story | Bride - By Zamahlasela Ga­bela Pho­to­graph Jurie Pot­gi­eter

We cel­e­brated 50 years of mar­riage in May. We didn’t do much – we con­sid­ered it and then thought, “Lis­ten, we are pooped out with par­ty­ing ”. We’ve been par­ty­ing since for­ever, so we re­ally needed to re­lax. We are plan­ning on do­ing a big­ger thing later.

When I first laid eyes on Cai­phus, I thought he was cute. He was my brother’s friend, and he used to come to my home and hang with my brother. I re­mem­ber one time he told my brother, ‘I’ve been com­ing here to see your lit­tle sis­ter. One day I’m go­ing to marry her.’ My brother went berserk, so Cai­phus said he was just kid­ding.

We got to know each other when we did King Kong to­gether. I re­mem­ber in 1958 we were go­ing to Cape Town by train for the show and he was look­ing out the win­dow, with a huge green ap­ple in his hand. He asked if I’d like a bite of it. I thought about it for a sec­ond and then said “okay”. He threw the ap­ple to me, I caught it and took a bite, then sent it back to him. That was re­ally the be­gin­ning of things.

When we were in Dur­ban, he asked me to go with him to a movie on one of our nights off. As we were watch­ing the movie, he said, ‘You have this pro­tec­tive ring around you.’ When I asked what he meant, he told me I was so aloof, and that it was hard for him to say cer­tain things to me. I said that he should tell me what he wanted to, which is when he came out with it and told me that he cared about me.


I think Cai­phus pro­posed in 1961 when we were in Lon­don. We were about to go home, but he was go­ing to fly to Amer­ica to do Sponono. He said that he didn’t want to leave things as they were and would like to send his par­ents to my home to talk to my fam­ily. His par­ents came and talked about lobola and paid ev­ery­thing, and a month later, Cai­phus left for the United States.

We had a long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship for about nine months. I fol­lowed him once I’d sorted out my pass­port. When I got to the States he de­cided it was time for us to re­ally get mar­ried and do this right. We got mar­ried in 1966 in Los An­ge­les, but it wasn’t re­ally a big deal. We just went and signed a mar­riage cer­tifi­cate. It was me, Cai­phus and Hugh Masekela – just the three of us. Later on we went back to New York and Miss [Miriam] Makeba de­cided to give us a huge party where we had all the South Africans and stu­dents who were at Columbia Univer­sity. It was won­der­ful.


I al­ways tell peo­ple that if there were a se­cret for­mula for a suc­cess­ful mar­riage, I would be a bil­lion­aire. There isn’t one. But I think there are prin­ci­ples that we live by, like lov­ing and re­spect­ing one another and un­der­stand­ing the fact that we’ve both got flaws.

When we met we were fully grown with a set of 32 teeth. We were crys­tallised in our ways, so we had to ad­just to that. He has idio­syn­cra­sies that I have to deal with, and I’m the same. So if we un­der­stand that, then we re­alise that maybe we can make it. We also have faith in each other and sup­port each other.

There are so many things that make up a re­la­tion­ship, but like I said, it’s not a for­mula; it’s things that the two of you cre­ate and live by. We thank God ev­ery day that we’re still to­gether. We have our ups and downs be­cause we’re hu­man. We some­times fight and scream at each other but that’s be­cause we care.

We come from fam­i­lies that are very sup­port­ive. If we have prob­lems, I’ll call home and they say, ‘Okay, we’re com­ing’ and they help us sort it out. We also have very good friends who re­mind us where we’ve come from and they help us to fo­cus.


As artists, keep­ing our in­di­vid­u­al­ity in mar­riage has been such a dif­fi­cult thing. Cai­phus and I de­cided that be­cause we are a pair, we ac­tu­ally need to be sep­a­rate. What we do is to­tally dif­fer­ent to who we are to­gether. Lov­ing him has noth­ing to do with my mu­sic. I loved mu­sic be­fore I met him.

We make sure that we sep­a­rate our per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. He’s my hus­band, so when we get home, we’re happy

hus­band and wife. But on stage or at re­hearsals we are in­di­vid­u­als. If I love a song that he writes, I’ll tell him that I’d like to do it, but he can­not im­pose a song on me just be­cause he wrote it.

Some­times he thinks he can talk to me any­how, but no. At home we can do that, but when I’m at work, it has noth­ing to do with you. You can ad­vise me but you can­not con­trol me, just like I can’t do that to you. Now and then it be­comes an is­sue but we are care­ful about it, which is how we’ve sur­vived.


It’s very dif­fi­cult to choose my favourite song with Cai­phus be­cause we’ve done so many to­gether. But I think the one that re­ally made me pay at­ten­tion was the song that I did for the minis­eries Roots, called Many Rains Ago. There was a history be­hind it, which my grand­mother used to talk to me about, but when I was phys­i­cally there con­tribut­ing to the song, it be­came a dif­fer­ent story. Ev­ery time I lis­ten to it, I’m moved.

I think I was com­ing home from Washington when I heard Cai­phus play­ing There’s Mu­sic in the Air on the pi­ano. I thought, “That’s in­ter­est­ing.” He wasn’t fin­ished it yet, so I sat and lis­tened. I would say, “That note is wrong. Why don’t you put this one?” He’d give me a look, but when I’d come back, the note would be there.

Even­tu­ally the song was done and we found some­one to write the lyrics. It was a dif­fi­cult song for me to per­form at first be­cause I’m a con­tralto and ev­ery time I sang it in my nat­u­ral voice I felt it wasn’t work­ing. So we took the notes up a lit­tle bit and there it was.


We are pro­duc­ing an al­bum right now. I’m very ex­cited about it be­cause it’s been al­most 10 years since the last one.

I’m also thrilled about a pro­ject we’ve been work­ing on since we moved back to South Africa. It is a school of the per­form­ing arts, where young peo­ple can learn about in­dige­nous African in­stru­ments, as well as the ba­sics of mu­sic. We want the artists to go to the coun­try­side, lis­ten to the mu­sic there and come up with epics in­dige­nous to Africa. For me that’s the pro­ject; af­ter that I can die.

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