The world of music and culture mourns the loss of Sylvia Nonceba Mdunyelwa, affectionately known as “Mama Kaap” or “Mam Nce,” who passed away last week following a brief illness. The internationally acclaimed musician, broadcaster, and actor, hailing from the Langa township in Cape Town, leaves behind a legacy that has left an indelible mark on South African jazz.
Mama Kaap’s remarkable journey in the world of music began in the 1970s when she joined Victor Ntoni’s sextet. Over the years, she collaborated with renowned Cape Town jazz musicians, including the Ngucakana brothers, Ezra and Duke Ngcukana, Winston Mankunku, Nick Carter, and Merton Barrow.
Born in Langa, Cape Town, over half a century ago, Mama Kaap’s career spanned more than five decades. Her enchanting voice and unique interpretations of jazz standards and traditional Xhosa songs earned her a special place in the hearts of many.
Mama Kaap wasn’t just an extraordinary performer; she was a mentor and nurturer of young and aspiring musicians. In 1990, she took a group of young talents to the International Children’s Jazz Festival in Canada, and upon her return, she was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where she honed her musical and theatrical skills.
Her commitment to music took her around the world, including a memorable performance at the Berlin Festival in 1994 in Germany. In 1998, she released the album “African Diva, Live in Africa,” focusing on her performances at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown. Subsequently, she signed with Blue Note and recorded her first studio album, “Ingoma (Song),” produced by Victor Ntoni in 2000.
Mama Kaap was not only a musical icon but also a dedicated community activist. She was awarded the prestigious ‘Golden Guachupe’ award by the government of Colombia in recognition of her community work in Cape Town. Her contributions extended to the world of radio, where she hosted “Voice of Jazz” on P4 Radio, Heart 104.9FM, and served on the board of Fine Music Radio, a classical jazz station in Cape Town. She also hosted a show on Umhlobo Wenene FM, a prominent Xhosa radio station.
Despite never receiving formal singing lessons, Mama Kaap’s talent was innate, influenced by the rich musical environment of Langa. Her legacy continues through the impact she had on countless artists, including Fancy Galata and Lungiswa Plaatjies, both from Langa.
Western Cape MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, paid tribute, saying, “Sylvia will be remembered for her powerful voice and charismatic stage presence. Her legacy will live on not only through her music but also through the impact she made on the South African music industry and the lives of many artists.”
Sylvia Nonceba Mdunyelwa, Mama Kaap, will be laid to rest on Saturday, September 2, in Langa. Her timeless music and contributions to the arts and community will forever resonate in the hearts and minds of South Africans and music lovers worldwide.