Defend Truth


Serenading South Africa, one song at a time


Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

Even if things are looking a little gloomy out there, we South Africans can always console themselves with something we do better than almost anywhere else in the world: music. So here it is this week, 22 ways to serenade South Africa after 22 years of democracy.


Zahara – the ultimate SA music over night success story. Discovered in the townships outside East London, with a truth and honesty of sound that is original and unique but still solidly grounded in her roots.

Karen Zoid – one of the best pop / rock writers to emerge from this country, and always on the cutting edge of Afrikaans music. A singer of matchless musicality with a deep understanding of the power of subtlety.

Zwai Bala – a combination of the old and the new. A graduate of the Drakensberg Choir, founder member of TKZ (who changed urban SA music forever) and comfortable kicking down in kwaito or crooning out a pop ballade.

Zolani Mahola – the nicest person and the best professional you could hope to work with, whose plaintive sound gave Freshly Ground that ‘smile factor’ that dug right into our souls.


Pretty Yende – conquering the world’s Great Opera Houses one after the other, with her soaring soprano, steadily increasing virtuosity, and the sheer glamour and elegance of her “star quality”.

Johan Botha – from the Pavarotti school of Outsize Operatic Outlines. Some claim he is the world’s leading Helden Tenor. He has been booked five years in advance for the last decade, with the power of his voice filling the largest houses with ease.

Elsa van den Heever – a mezzo soprano who has steadily and securely worked her way into the forefront of the opera world, with a musical intelligence and dramatic truth that fuels all her work.

Mmusa Ngqungwana – one of many SA baritones who are in demand around the world. A rags to riches story of an Eastern Cape Boy, who by good fortune, careful mentoring and then given the right opportunity and support is now systematically growing a reputation to be reckoned with.

THE DIVAS (hard to choose here)

Brenda Fassie – one of the most charismatic and gifted performers ever to grace a stage. Her almost manic commitment and animal magnetism made every appearance (sober or not) an extraordinary performance.

Rebecca Mahlope – I met her when she had just emerged in the late 80s; shy and self-effacing but 32 albums later, still one of the most powerful performers in the hugely popular SA Gospel Music Scene.

Lebo Matoza – beautiful, lithe, damaged, powerful, electrifying. In her short career she pushed the envelope of how SA female singers could present themselves in ways we had never seen before.

Lira – like Zonke, the epitome of elegance and grace. An international sound and yet completely African. Those Cleopatra eyes, that beautiful head, radiant smile and vocal purity quickly gave her a status that was all her own.

Miriam Makeba – the original South African diva! The first voice from South Africa to capture the world. Angry activist, charming performer, haunting styling and energized rhythm. For many, she defined SA music for years.


Johnny Clegg – The greatest and truest cross over artist ever. Despite a laser-like intelligence and intimidating academic background, he created a unique poetry that took flight on the unadorned sound of the hills, and so sent our longings and dreams flying upwards.

Sibongile Khumalo – dignity and versatility personified. Whether grooving and growling through Soph’town Jazz, reviving a dying Zulu art form with humility and pride, or exploring the texture and technical challenge of Brahms lieder, her complete commitment to the music is that of a true artist.

Soweto String Quartet – by reinterpreting the hypnotic rhythms and simple harmonies of urban SA in the 60s, they gave it new life.

MiCasa – proof that when we stir the SA pot we can create great stew. They don’t have a typical back-story of long struggle, just three people whose talents collided and created a sound that went beyond every imagined social and political division and got a new generation dancing together.

Mango Groove – Showmanship, precise production, dramatic arrangements, strong vocals, and a big band successfully balanced made them part of our cultural history. From ‘toppie’ to ‘teens’ people everywhere still want to get up and jive when they hear their music.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo – the most extraordinary success story. Isicathamiya rose as part of the African choral tradition, but the gift of collaboration has taken the finest exponent of this African Art form triumphantly around the world.

Hugh Masekela – the hottest horn in the South. A pioneer and founder of the increasing richness that is SA jazz today. Evergreen, energetic and blessed with a set of lungs and lips that have never lost their authority in over 50 years.

Taliep Peterson – his collaboration with David Kramer tapped into the deep well of coloured culture. Together they promoted one of our most under developed musical traditions, giving us a glimpse of the future, when the coloured nation will allow the fountain of their latent talent to burst out.

Victor Ntoni – I end my short list with this little known, gentle musical genius, because he epitomizes so many of our musical heroes. Struggling with addiction, poverty stricken, gifted, and haunted by the world around him. His heartbreaking “Where Are the Children Now?” could have been written today – it is sadly still so relevant.


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