Opera singer finds new voice in writing books
"I think music has always been that saving grace," says South African-born opera singer Musa Ngqungwana, during a one-on-one chat at a tiny guesthouse in Parkhurst, Johannesburg.
"It was my go-to place whenever I was feeling despondent and things were not quite working out."
Ngqungwana is based in Philadelphia, US, and is currently in the country to promote his book Odyssey of an African Opera Singer.
The book tells the story of a young man from Zwide in Port Elizabeth who, armed with natural talent and an iron will, etched his way out of poverty to a place in life where he is living his dream.
The 34-year-old singer takes us through the challenges of his childhood, growing up without a father figure and an absent mother.
Luckily for him, his grandmother was there to be the constant in his life.
The two forged a fierce attachment to one another, which transcended the most heart-wrenching of circumstances.
His grandmother was the gatekeeper in his life, allowing only people that were thoroughly vetted through to his inner circle.
This protected young Ngqungwana, but also stunted his growth in terms of interpersonal relationships.
"I was used to rejections and things just going wrong for me. It's like this, I expected things to go wrong all the time. So when there was something good happening, I would never ever show it," he explains.
This books also reveals the hard time he had engaging with potential girlfriends, as well as lamenting the lack of a father figure to teach him how to become a man.
He has regrets though about the way he treated women.
Ngqungwana, however, knew his father, a sweet-talking ladies man who was unreliable.
"I look at my father and said to myself, God wherever you are in the universe let this apple fall so far from that dude," he confesses.
His story is also a testament of how perseverance can take you far as
Ngqungwana meets many obstacles in his journey to opera.
Chief among those being a family that disappointed and didn't understand his vision, and there were also financial constraints.
The man seated on the couch is a far cry from the young man in the book.
Age has matured Ngqungwana. .
He is still just as focused, just as in love with opera but also healed.
"Having read the book ... I was like my goodness, no one should ever have to go through this. It's so tough I don't understand how I could have survived."
His relationship with his mother is constantly being repaired.
He mentions how she was upset at how little he wrote about her in the book.
She had him when she was quite young, and battled alcoholism for a time and often found herself in abusive situations.
His grandmother thought it best he not be exposed to this part of his mother's life.
"When I wrote the book, I didn't want to put her in a bad light.
The stuff I had written about her already when I was talking to her about them, she was crying because she saw herself as a terrible person."
It always seemed the odds were stacked against young Ngqungwana, but on his rise to the top he formed many lifelong friendships, the most prominent being with a young man named Nonkie.
His face light s up as he recollects stories about moments with Nonkie
Ngqngwana admits to missing SA, especially the snoek fish and the buskers in Cape Town!
He has been bitten by the writing bug; he's currently working on a second novel exploring the themes of machismo, domestic abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. "It will create a dialogue, some of it will be polarising but enough for people to talk about it."
Ngqungwana has learnt many things about himself on his journey.
He's performed on international stages, and won awards. But he's not done yet. "Change is not an overnight thing."
The book is published by Penguin Random House.
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