South African Soprano, PUMEZA MATSHIKIZA, Signs Global Record Contract with Decca Classics/Universal Music

Pumeza Matshikiza at Homba Public Primary School, her old
school, Khayelitsha, South Africa (Decca/©Sarah Nankin )

A singer who grew up in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa, and discovered classical music, today signs a record deal with Decca, home to the biggest opera star in the world, the late Luciano Pavarotti.

Pumeza Matshikiza has already been described by the UK’s leading critics as “poised for operatic stardom”(The Times, UK) and “one of opera's most exciting new voices"(Daily Telegraph, UK). But having been told she had no future as an opera singer in South Africa, she almost became a quantity surveyor.

Growing up in the 1980s-90s, as the apartheid regime was coming to its end, Pumeza witnessed first-hand the violence, crime and poverty which dominated those years. The singer still remembers the anti-apartheid demonstrations: the tear gas, the plastic bullets, and the practice of ‘necklacing’. "As children we saw things that we shouldn’t see. It was shocking, but that was the time we lived in", she recalls.

Coming from the Eastern Cape, Pumeza, with her mother and brother moved around the townships, living in rented shacks of corrugated iron. She was a teenager when apartheid ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandela was elected president. For her debut album Decca have specially commissioned a song set to the poem Invictus that Nelson Mandela used to recite to inmates while incarcerated on Robben Island. The song’s music was written by the “nation’s favourite living composer” (As voted for by Classic FM (UK) listeners) Paul Mealor, whose music was personally chosen by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge for their own wedding in 2011.

For Pumeza, opera became her ticket out of South Africa. She discovered it by accident, as a teenager channel-surfing the radio. She then overheard singing coming from an open window at the South African College of Music, and auditioned. South African composer Kevin Volans recognised the distinctive beauty of her voice and bought her a plane ticket to London where she auditioned for the Royal College of Music. She was immediately offered a full scholarship, and from there she went on to join the Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Over three years she participated in performances and masterclasses with international opera stars and Decca legends such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Jonas Kaufmann. Pumeza’s three-year contract with Stuttgart Opera has been an eye-opening introduction to the challenges and pressures of an operatic career, and she has already shone as Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Zerlina in Don Giovanni and in 2013/14 stars as Mimi in a new production of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Pumeza's album will follow her musical journey from townships to the operatic stage with traditional African songs in her native Xhosa language, tracks accompanied by The African Children's Choir, including new arrangements of Paul Simon's Homeless (from Graceland), Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika (The National Anthem), through to popular opera arias by Mozart and Puccini.

Pumeza Matshikiza said: “It is an honour for me to join Decca Classics, the home of many great opera singers. My debut album tells the story of my incredible journey from Africa to Europe and I feel privileged to be able to chart it through the very personal repertoire choices on this album; songs and arias that prove music unites people across the world and brings cultures together.”

Paul Moseley, Managing Director of Decca Classics said: “Pumeza’s voice has a haunting beauty that goes straight to the heart; you rarely encounter such distinctive quality. Her story has inspired us and we believe she will soon grace the great opera houses of the world.” 

Lauded as “a soprano in demand”(Independent, UK and “the real thing” (The Times, UK, Pumeza’s highly-anticipated debut recording is due for release at the end of the year on Decca.

Pumeza Matshikiza has also just signed with Intermusica Artists’ Management for worldwide representation