Lifetime Award Winners - Music: Caiphus Semenya

Caiphus Semenya

Caiphus Semenya

Caiphus Katse Semenya was born on the 19th of August 1939 in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township. Semenya is one of South Africa’s prolific musical directors and composers. He also belongs to the collection of iconic South African musicians to have lived in exile – a group which included the likes of his wife Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, and Abdullah Ibrahim. These artists used their craft as an activism tool flying the anti-apartheid flag so effectively abroad. Alongside Jonas and Hugh, Caiphus was a member of the Union of South Africa, a band considered to be one of the best South African musical exports of all time.

During his early teens Semenya lived with his grandmother in Benoni. Along with three of his friends Caiphus, affectionately known as “Caution”, started a band called the Katzenjammer Kids which became one of South Africa’s top teenage groups. He was invited by Gibson Kente, the father of ‘Township Musical’, to join his production Manana the Jazz Prophet, where he met Theo Bophela who encouraged his song writing talents.

Semenya left for New York in 1964 with the musical, Sponono and remained there when the rest of the cast returned to South Africa. He stayed in Miriam Makeba’s home and continued to compose music. While in New York he continue to receive formal training in music writing.

Later he and his wife Letta, left New York for Los Angeles where his writing talents resulted in him working with some of the top music producers of the time.