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Monday, January 12, 2015


(Musa Ngqungwana. Pic by Paul Sirochman)

Baritone Musa Ngqungwana (30) has been named by the National Arts Festival as the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music.

Musa Ngqungwana grew up in the township Zwide in Port Elizabeth with a passion for performance at a young age, taking part in small theatre productions in the township. Being brought up by his mother and grandmother, Ngqungwana had a rich and interesting childhood taking part in a variety of activities widely ranging from rugby to reading. From primary school he sang in choirs, which pre-empted his career as a singer.

He knew he wanted to better his life and his circumstances of living in a township and reflects: “From a very young age I was driven by my focus not to be a statistic and to achieve whatever was possible. This hard journey has always propelled me to always rise above any challenges, knowing very well that I have crossed harder bridges.”

His first introduction to opera was as a teenager when he saw a 1978 video performance of Die Zauberflote where Sir Willard White played the role of Die Sprecher. He says “I was sold by the notion of a black man doing a major role. The art form was a novelty to me and I was fascinated by the German language, the costumes, the singing and scenery”.

After school Ngqungwana studied Building Science at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for one year, until he pursued his passion for music. While his grandmother had hopes of him becoming a doctor or engineer, Ngqungwana felt strongly about studying music.

He continued singing as a distraction from the difficult situation he was in and started an encore ensemble. Through support and encouragement, Ngqungwana auditioned for a scholarship at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Opera School. In 2004 he was given a full bursary and his talent was acknowledged. Ngqungwana won his first award in 2007 for the vocal competition held by the university. He gained a Performer’s Diploma in Opera and Bachelor of Music Honours Degree in Performance (Magna Cum Laude) from the University. He then received a scholarship to study at the prestigious opera institution, Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), in Philadelphia and in May 2014 he graduated with an Artist Diploma.

Ngqungwana has won numerous awards throughout his career to date. His accolades extend from Cape Town’s Schock Prize to Vienna’s International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition, as well as an impressive scope of competitions and prizes by Opera Index in New York City.

Ngqungwana has worked with opera legends such as Angelo Gobbato, Marco Armiliato, Tito Capobianco and Kamal Khan and many more. He has played numerous roles and his most memorable include the catalogue aria from Don Giovanni as Don Giovanni by Mozart, Figaro in The Barber of Seville by Baudron and Puccini’s Turandot where he played the role of Ping.

Currently, Ngqungwana is working on his debut role as Colline with the Washington National Opera; Zuniga with the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and Friedhold with the Washington Concert Opera. He has begun planning for his performance at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for his 2015 debut performance, he elaborates on the festival saying: “I always longed to be part of the festival, but not once did I ever think I would be one of the people who would receive this prestigious award. Therefore this is very humbling for me”.

Spending most days rehearsing for performances and nights studying his notes and reading the score for the next opera, Ngqungwana spends the rest of his time exploring the cities he performs in. He loves reading and reflecting through writing and has recently written his first memoir Odyssey of an African Opera Singer. From Zwide Township to the World Stage.

Ngqungwana, who is currently based abroad performing in The United States and Europe, thanks Standard Bank for his award. “It is a recognition from home soil that folks are watching us and wishing for us to rise to ever great spheres of achievement. I am grateful to Standard Bank for their generous support of artists, they have been doing this for 30 years. In this global decline for the support of the arts, we are incredibly fortunate to have such an esteemed bank and organisation continue investing in the festival, ensuring that we continue growing and ploughing as South African artists the world over. I thank you Standard Bank from the bottom of my heart.”

The other recipients of the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award are Luyanda Sidiya(Dance), Kemang WaLehulere (Visual Art), Christiaan Olwagen (Theatre), Athi-Patra Ruga (Performance Art), and Nduduzo Makhathini (Jazz).

This year’s National Arts Festival will take place in Grahamstown from July 2 to 12. For more information click on the banner advert at the top of this page to link you to the website.