Sylvia Mdunyelwa is your modern-day African Diva. The internationally acclaimed artist started her illustrious singing career in the 1970s when she joined Victor Ntoni’s sextet.
Mdunyelwa has been blessed to have worked alongside other leading Cape Town Jazz musicians amongst who were the Ngucakana brothers, Ezra and Duke Ngcukana, Winston Mankunku, Nick Carter and Merton Barrow. Sylvia Ncediwe Mdunyelwa was born in the township of Langa in Cape Town for than 50 years ago. With a career spanning over five decades, Mama Mdunyelwa is affectionately known as “Sis Nce” or “Mam Nce” to her Langa community or “Mama Kaap” to the broader Cape Town fan base. ‘Mam Nce’ has been relaying out her interpretation of jazz standards and traditional Xhosa songs. Mam Nce became involved in developing the talent of young and aspiring musicians.
For example, in 1990 Mam Nce took a group of young musicians to the International Children’s Jazz Festival in Canada. And on her return, Mam Nce was awarded a scholarship by the Educational Opportunities Council. Subsequently she went to study at the University of California LoAngeles (UCLA). Mam Nce used this opportunity to polish her skills in music and theater. Upon her return, Mam Nce was invited to tour Germany where she performed at the Berlin Festival in 1994.
In a May 2020 interview, Mam Nce divulged; “I was listening to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald from the age of seven years, sweetheart,” she says. “I grew up with jazz music around me. It was all about Ella, Carmen McCrae and Sarah Vaughan.“It’s what I do, it’s what I love sweetheart,” she says when asked about her long career.
Mam Nce also shares: “I was singing [Ella’s signature tune] Mack The Knife, even though I did not know the English words. I was just a child and I sang just what I wanted to sing.”
Mam Nce was later part of a cultural exchange programme where she went to Bogota, Colombia in South America to perform in 1997.
The following year, 1998, Mam Nce released her album African Diva, Live in Africa which focused on her performances at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown.
In 1999, Mam Nce got a contract with Blue Note. And in 2000 Mam Nce recorded her first studio album Ingoma (Song) which was produced by Victor Ntoni. Mam Nce continues to speak glowingly of the a capella groups that flourished in the townships. Some of them include groups like the Modern Chirpers, the Harmony Jigs, the Semitones who came under the guidance of Victor Ntoni and Aspro Sipoyo.
Mam Nce was awarded the ‘Golden Guachupe’ award in recognition for her community work in Cape Town. She became part of the BBC production of the life of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Mam Nce presents Voice of Jazz, a programme on P4 Radio, Hear 104.9FM, which is a Cape Town radio station.
She is also a member of the board of Fine Music Radio, a classical jazz station in Cape Town.
Mam Nce also hosted her show on one of the biggest SABC Radio Stations in South Africa, Umhlobo Wenene FM, a Xhosa station. Although Mam Nce never had formal singing lessons, she made sure that would never be an impediment in her career. “I got it from my family and from those around me in Langa. Langa was a place of good music in those days,” reflects the legend.