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CNN’s ‘African Voices’: Lindiwe Dlamini returns home

Sometimes the best way to understand the success of people who live their lives up on stage is to see their lives behind the curtain. ‘African Voices’ recently got up close and personal with the African performers who poured their heart and soul into every performance. The programme begins on Broadway in New York City, where it meets Lindiwe Dlamini, the South African singer who now performs her trade in the United States, starring in the Disney musical hit, The Lion King. Having been raised in a musical family on the outskirts of Durban, Dlamini started her stage career in a South Africa where apartheid was still present, and voices were being hushed.

Dlamini explained to ‘African Voices’, You had so many people in exile who were artists — Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela… It was our voice going out in the world to let them know what was going on in South Africa. So the government didn’t want anybody to leave. If you left the country, you were exiled, you couldn’t come back.’ Dlamini participated in protest theatre in her youth, which included a performance of Sarafina, a play based on the true story of a student uprising in Soweto. In 1987, the play moved to New York and took the actors with it.

Dlamini admitted, ‘I thought America was New York, Times Square, Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Centre. You grew up looking at the artists: Michael Jackson, Prince. Those people…“oh, when I get to New York I’m going to meet them.” You were thinking you were going to meet them in the streets. Give them a high five! But, it’s not like that.” She adds, “It’s very fast in New York.’ Dlamini made New York her home, and told ‘African Voices’: ‘I’m a New Yorker now.’

The programme hears how friendships were made in New York, and Dlamini met her husband Bongi when she started working on The Lion King. The Lion King Broadway cast includes many other South Africans, whose families are also far away, so the bonds of friendship are strong. They have a tradition to gather at a local restaurant to eat comfort food together when they feel home sick.

In ‘African Voices’, Dlamini takes a trip back to her childhood home in Durban, South Africa with her husband and daughter. It’s a long way from Broadway and a lot has changed since she left as a young girl, nearly 30 years ago. She wants to show her daughter, though, that family and music remain strong in the country. When visiting a local church Dlamini explained to ‘African Voices’: ‘Here you really sing from the heart. Here, you’re not trained to sing. You are free.’

In addition to family and fun, Dlamini makes time to give back to her community, visiting organisations helped by the New York based charity, Broadway Cares. Many of the committee members of the charity, including Dlamini and her husband, come from townships near Durban where Broadway Cares is helping out. The cause is close to their hearts. Dlamini told ‘African Voices’, ‘I chose this area for Broadway Care because I grew up around here.’

When she returned to New York, Dlamini explained what it is like to be a cast member of one of the biggest Broadway shows in history: ‘What’s amazing for me is that since we started The Lion King 18 years ago, I don’t think anybody thought that it would be this big. And more than 50 million people worldwide have watched The Lion King. This has given a lot of South Africans opportunities.’

Looking to the future Dlamini said with a laugh, ‘It still may be going on strong another 20 years. Our grandchildren might see it. I will be here with my walking stick singing ‘Circle of Life’!’

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