Nothembi Mkhwebane, Queen of Ndebele music
17 May 2019 ARTS & CULTURE
By Nomali Cele
Nothembi Mkhwebane is a musician most famous for her centring of Ndebele culture and music. With her years in the entertainment industry, Nothembi Mkhwebane isn’t merely an artist who sings in isiNdebele, she represents and elevates the Ndebele culture in every aspect of her public image.
Nothembi Mkhwebane places the beginnings of her musical journey to around the time when she was five years old. Speaking with Mike Siluma on Karibu, Mkhwebane shared that her musical career started at home. Her uncle was the person who taught her the guitar and Ndebele techniques for playing the instrument.
She says that her what was originally her time spent with her uncle herding goats and cattle, quickly turned into music lessons. He taught her how to play the guitar he’d made himself. They then started playing together at celebrations around their hometown.
The landscape at the time and the fact that she was being raised by her grandparents meant that Nothembi Mkhwebane didn’t have access to education. She even goes as far as to say that her grandparents didn’t believe that girls should be in school as they would be married off eventually.
Her life in Mpumalanga didn’t read to much music success so she worked a regular job while still performing. She then moved to Gauteng to pursue her career and ended up settling in Tshwane. Much like in Mpumalanga, she was a domestic worker in her day job. She still continued to pursue a music career buying her own instruments to keep playing.
It was while she lived in Tshwane that she decided she would try to record, even though she didn’t have a firm idea of what she would record or what she would do with it after. Mkhwebane did not study music or music composition. All her music training came through the people she grew up around. Today she is a multi-instrumentalist.
Her work, artistry and influence earned Nothembi Mkhwebane the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for “her excellent contribution to music and putting the Ndebele music on the world stage.”
Mkhwebane views her discography as a library for future generations, saying she wants future generations to look back at her work and see the knowledge shared there. Every song in her catalogue carries a message and that’s how she wants it to be.
Today, her talent and music legacy has propelled her to being recognised as Dr Nothembi Mkhwebane as she was awarded an Honourary doctorate. She also founded the Nothembie Mkhwebane Foundation, through which she hopes to pass on skills, including music, to girls and women. She wants to encourage them to learn as she did.
Listen to Mike Siluma in conversation with Mkhwebane:
Images are courtesy of the artist’s Facebook page.