Praise singer Msawenkosi Nqobile Duma to usher in President

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

As final preparations continue in and around Cape Town City Hall where President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday, a booming voice can be heard over the speaker.

It is that of the praise singer – or imbongi – who will be ushering the President into the chamber rehearsing his lines.

At a media briefing earlier in the week, Parliament’s Presiding Officers described the role of imbongi in the SONA programme as “crucial to the celebration of our cultural diversity and social cohesion” and an important feature which has been in place since 1994.

This year’s imbongi, 28-year-old Msawenkosi Nqobile Duma, agrees.

“Praise singing is there to give honour to those who are our leaders. This is part of our heritage. It is almost like religion and it is our tradition. It gives us an opportunity to remember who we are.

“Even if a person doesn’t understand the language the praise singer is speaking, I believe that they are able to feel the energy of the praise singer and be reminded that they are an African,” he told SAnews. 

Duma, alias Nqanawe Yangempela, started his career as a performing artist from a young age and would often be selected to represent his school in competitions.

He then joined an organisation called Julwa Inyosi.

“When I was young, I was an artist and a writer and I would get selected to represent my school in competitions. So I became very interested in the arts. When I finished school, I joined an organisation called Julwa Inyosi…and there I learnt to perform poems on stage.

“I would also perform poems as part of a group at train stations and bus stops in order to make an income. I managed to make enough to register myself for some short courses and to even build myself a shack to live in.

“A while later, I was in church when I saw another imbongi performing and I loved it because it was a praise song for God and that’s where it all started for me. After that, I wrote a praise song for [a radio station] where it was played as a jingle for about three months. That’s when I truly started to believe that I could do praise singing,” he said.

The 28-year-old said being selected to be the praise singer for this year’s SONA represents another breakthrough in his career after he was nominated for a 2022 South African Traditional Music Award.

“When I received the phone call that I was selected [to be the praise singer], I was truly surprised. My mother was the first person I told and she was so happy for me. This is a great opportunity and I believe that it can open many doors for. It is my breakthrough in this industry that I am in.

“I had never imagined that I would be selected to be the praise singer for the president,” he said.

Turning to the State of the Nation Address itself, Duma said he is looking forward to what President Ramaphosa has to say, particularly related to the energy challenges South Africa is facing.

“It is so important for me because it gives us the directions in which we will go forward and we will hear what solutions the President has for our current problems. For example, we are all anticipating what he will say regarding load shedding.

“And it’s also very important because I have been selected to be his praise poet,” Duma concluded with a smile.

President Ramaphosa will deliver the State of the Nation Address at 19:00 on Thursday evening. The speech will be broadcast on various radio, television and online platforms. –