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Mbongeni Ngema (born 1 June 1956) is a South African writer, lyricist, composer, director and theatre producer, born in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal (near Durban). He started his career as a theatre backing guitarist.
He was previously married to actress Leleti Khumalo, who received a 1988 Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for Sarafina!, as well as starring in the leading role in South Africa's first Oscar-nominated film Yesterday.
Born in Verulem 1956 and raised in the heart of Zululand, Mbongeni Ngema has distinguished himself as a renowned playwright, screenwriter and librettist. He is best known as the Writer of the internationally acclaimed and award-winning musical Sarafina!, which was nominated for five Tony Awards, and later nominated for the prestigious Grammy Awards. The musical won 11 NAACP Image Awards enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway, toured the USA, Europe, Australia and Japan and was later adapted into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Leleti Khumalo and Miriam Makeba.
Ngema has had a string of blockbusters that include his award-winning and internationally revered Woza Albert, Township Fever (1990), which travelled from the Market Theatre to the USA the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Majestic Theatre; Mama (1995), Asinamali (1996), Maria Maria (1997), The Zulu – the musical (1999), 1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter, The House of Shaka (2005) and The Lion of the East (2006).
In 1998, Ngema was inducted in the New York “Walk of Fame” in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan, New York City, as one of the revered Writers of the 21st century. In 2001 during the African Renaissance festival, his name was engraved on the entrance of the City Hall in Durban alongside those of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Miriam Makeba and other heroes of the liberation struggle.
As a librettist, Ngema has written the musical soundtrack for Sarafina - the movie and produced the movie's soundtrack alongside Quincy Jones. He has composed several music albums, including the famous and locally loved album Stimela SaseZola. Ngema has written and arranged numerous songs as well as arranged music for artists such as Michael Bolton. He was also one of the vocal arrangers for The Lion King, Disney’s animated film. For this, Ngema received a multi-platinum award for sales in excess of 6 million copies. He subsequently won a Grammy Award for the movie adaptation. "Woza My Fohloza", the new millennium song, and several albums of his musicals are on Ngema’s librettist list.
In 1997, Ngema was appointed as a visiting lecturer at the University of Zululand to teach his unique artistic technique and subsequently produced the first CD released by the university’s music department. In 2003 he was appointed as Artistic Director for the 2003 Cricket World Cup and in 2004 appointed as one of the organisers of the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of South Africa’s democracy. He has been entrusted by the KZN Department of Arts, Sports and Recreation for establishing and managing the recording studio and record company, The KZN Music House managed by his company Committed Artists.
Several books and academic work have been written about Mbongeni Ngema and his celebrated works, including Nothing Except Ourselves by Laura Jones (USA), The Best of Mbongeni Ngema, The man and his music by Isabel Cooke (RSA), An investigation into the creation and interpretation in Mbongeni Ngema’s intra-cultural Theatre – N. O. Sabelo (UKZN Thesis).
Ngema has tapped into his own richly-nurtured background of traditional story-telling, learned as a small child from his great-grandmother, to create his spell-binding one-man show, which melds memories of his childhood, spent in the heart of Zululand, with the wealth of his heritage, bringing vividly to life the historic panoply of the Zulu nation. The Zulu continues its triumphant tours of South Africa, filling theatres around the country, and is set to soon tour abroad.
Ngema prides himself on being from the lineage of the warriors Mbandama and Sigcwelegcwele kaMhlekehleke of the Ngema clan who led the Ingoba Makhosi regiment, a pivotal regiment that defeated the British armies at the Battle of Isandlwana in the Anglo-Zulu war, on 22 January 1879.
To add to the growing list of accolade, Ngema has recently been conferred with an honorary doctorate from the Good Shepherd College of Religion, Culture and skills training. This prestige was in honour and recognition of Ngema’s service to South African music and on-going impact in the arts sector. Mbongeni Ngema was recently the recipient of a prestigious Life Time Achievement Award, presented to him at the Naledi Awards ceremony held in Johannesburg in 2014.
Ngema composed a song called " Amandiya" which was critical of how the Indian people of Kwazulu Natal were treating its employees and paying them pittance. This song was banned by the high court in South Africa and later an age restriction of 18 was allowed for the song to be in circulation again.
- Asinamali (1987)
- Sarafina! (1988)
- Magic at 4 AM (1993)
- Circle Of Life (African voices) (1995)
- Mama (1996)
- Sarafina! 2 (1997)
- Nikeziwe (2005)
- The House of Shaka (2006)
- Lion of the East (2009)
- Take This Song in collaboration with the Reggae Band Third World
- The Zulu (2013)
Honors and awards
- 1987 Tony Award - Asinamali! nominated for Best Direction of a Play
- 1988 Tony Award - Sarafina! received five nominations: Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actress in a Musical
- 1988 Grammy Award - Sarafina! nominated for a Grammy Award
- 1988 NAACP Image Awards - Sarafina! the musical won 11 NAACP Image Awards in several categories
- Grammy Award - The Lion King, Disney Animated Film, for vocal arrangements
- 1998 - inducted in the New York "Walk of Fame" in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan, New York City
- 2001 - Dr. Ngema's name engraved on City Hall Entrance in Durban alongside Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Miriam Makeba
- In 2004 he was voted 92nd in the Top 100 Great South Africans.
- 2008 Living Legend Award from the Ethekwini Municipality, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal
- Honorary Doctorate conferred by the Good Shepherd College
- 2013 - Lifetime Achievement Award at Simon Mabhunu Sabela Film Awards
- 2013 - Inaugural Recognition Award at SAMRO's Wawela Awards
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