/ 23 September 2021

The Portfolio: Herbie Tsoaeli remembers Sibongile Khumalo’s professionalism and wicked humour

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Talented collective: Sibongile Khumalo with Uhadi band members (left to right) Justin Badenhorst, Paul Hanmer, Herbie Tsoaeli, McCoy Mrubata and Feya Faku outside the Market Theatre in 2014. (Photo: Tseliso Monaheng)

I don’t think we could have picked anyone better than Sibongile Khumalo to be a vocal interpreter of our music. With Uhadi, we all pretty much joined McCoy Mrubata and Paul Hanmer, because they were always playing together. I can’t remember who suggested that maMngoma join; it may have been McCoy because he’s usually at the forefront of putting people together. But all in all, the band just clicked beautifully. It was a bunch of people with humility and we respected each other.

As well as being musically inclined, maMngoma loved to laugh and was a beautiful person to be around. She felt comfortable and rehearsals were stress free, because she knew she was working with the best musicians. She was always comfortable when working with great musicians, which I realised when we did Live at the Market Theatre. That was with a different group and it was beautiful as well. 

 You could always feel the love around her. She was a great influence and inspiration, because she knew her story in the music, also having been a violinist. She contributed so much to the making of the songs. She could fix the notes and suggest arrangements she’d like to hear. 

 On stage, she had her own way of interacting with musicians and the audience. You became engulfed in her spiritual moments. Wayekunika umoya. She’d hit peaks and valleys and you’d have to be in tune with her, and she’d feel whether or not you were in gear. She moved with spirits. 

  Beyond the music itself, she was an exemplary professional. She showed responsibility and dedication to what she wanted to be in life. Some of us in this industry take things too easy and only realise later the importance of being on time, and the value of rehearsals. She rehearsed dilligently in service of the tightness of the band and always wanted to ensure that the music popped. 

 It was a very collaborative scenario with Uhadi, with every member chipping in. At times she’d turn around and ask us for lyrics. “Herbie, awundinikeze amalyrics … Awunama lyrics or something. Eyi wena.” There were so many moments. I really felt at ease being around her, which is great when you are playing.

  My one problem was that I was always late for rehearsals. I-African time ibindibetha ke kwi check-ups. But she was understanding: she knew she’d always get the best of me, because I always played my heart out. — As told to Kwanele Sosibo

Double bass player and composer Herbie Tsoaeli played with Sibongile Khumalo in Uhadi and in the recording of Live at the Market Theatre (1998). His new album, At This Point in Time [Voices in Volume], was released earlier this month.On September 24, Herbie Tsoaeli will play the Sandton City rooftop with his bandmates in a show titled Uhadi – remembering Sibongile Khumalo, in which they will team up with vocalist Gloria Bosman. 

For more information on the TMusicman Spectacular Concerts at The City, visit here.