|Abigail Kubeka has sung in some of the world's most exciting cities, yet she is always happiest when she returns home. "I love Joburg," she says.|
Life is easy in Joburg, says one of South Africa's top jazz singers, Abigail Kubeka.
"It's my home, I'm happy here, I love this place." Although she has toured overseas and in Africa, Kubeka says she is always glad to be back home. "Life is tough in other states in Africa. Even abroad, I don't find it smooth."
The singer still lives in Soweto, where she was born. She has raised her two children there and they also still live in the township. Kubeka has performed in cabaret, stage musicals, dramas, TV sitcoms, reviews, and local and international films. Nowadays she does a lot of corporate entertaining.
She was spotted by Miriam Makeba, the world-famous South African singer, in the 1950s as a 16-year-old, and Makeba invited her to join her all-girl group, The Skylarks. Soon afterwards she joined the chorus line of the hit musical King Kong and went to London with the show.
Makeba fell ill, causing the show to be cancelled for three days. "We were called in for auditions," she recalls.
Kubeka was the only girl who knew the songs and the script, so she was told to take the lead role. She protested that she didn't sing in the same range as Makeba. "I was very reluctant. I was the youngest of them all," she says.
But she played the role for two weeks, although the first night was pretty scary. "I was shaking like a leaf. I have never been so scared in my life. Miriam was my role model, I looked up to her."
From these beginnings, Kubeka went on to perform in several musicals: Ma's Got the Blues, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Ain't Misbehaving, Six of the Best, Two Women of Africa, and King Afrika.
She has also had roles in a host of television shows: Sewende Laan, Soul City, Generations, the BBC's Holby City, and most recently, in the BBC series Wild at Home. She's had a role in Cry, the Beloved Country and will performing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, to be staged at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre in January next year.
Her voice has taken her around southern Africa, playing at top cabaret venues. Kubeka's first album was released in Nigeria and Europe in 1981. In 1995 she performed for the queen of England during her visit to South Africa. In 1999 she performed at the opening ceremony of the All Africa Games in Joburg, and in 2004 she performed at the South African Embassy in London, at the country's celebrations of its 10 years of democracy.
Kubeka has received several awards, and has appeared in the Soweto Top 100 People and in City Press Top 10 Women Achievers. In 1986 she received the Women of Our Time award, together with 84 other African women. Recently she was awarded the prestigious Order of Ikhamanga, given for excellence in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
Although a sultry, exuberant personality on stage, at heart, says Kubeka, she is a very shy and private person.
"I love people but I am more comfortable alone with myself," she says, sitting in her lounge in her very comfortable, very elegantly decorated home in Soweto.