Nandipha Pantsi
2 minute read
18 Nov 2015
6:00 am

Abigail Kubeka: Icon among icons

Nandipha Pantsi

Musician is far from retiring as she still loves what she does and enjoys entertaining.

Winner of the Lifetime achievement award, Abigail Kubeka receives her award, 5 April 2014, at the Gallagher estate in Midrand for the South African Film & Television Awards (SAFTAS). Picture: Alaister Russell

It’s not every day you get to have a drink with some of our country’s most celebrated entertainers. So when Chivas Regal hosted an event with Abigail Kubeka, John Kani and Mbongeni Ngema, nobody wanted to miss the opportunity to clink glasses with industry veterans.

In the crowd at The Icon Lounge in Johannesburg, the woman known as Mam’Kubeka stands out. The 73-year-old musician and actress is the picture of grace as she chats to guests.

“This is a special occasion for me,” she says with a smile. “I don’t really go out a lot.”

Kubeka, along with theatre legends Kani and Ngema, were being honoured for the contributions they have made to the SA entertainment industry. She started working at the age of 16, when the late Miriam Makeba invited her to join her jazz group, The Skylarks.

With no formal training, Kubeka learnt a lot about entertaining from fellow Skylarks members Makeba, Letta Mbulu and Mary Rabotaba.

She got her big break when she performed in the jazz opera King Kong, which resulted in her travelling all over the world – something rare for black South African performers to be doing at the time.

Kubeka is among a few performers who have managed to have a fruitful career in music, theatre and television, spanning more than five decades.

She’s recently been on television shows such as Scandal, My Perfect Family and Wild At Heart. The key to her longevity? The passion to pursue her craft, no matter what the challenges.

“Being an entertainer is not all about glamour,” she says. “This is a tough industry and you have to be willing to work for your place in it. Young people tend to focus on the nice things the industry has to offer, but they forget that they are doing a job.”

Like many veterans in arts and entertainment, Kubeka doesn’t believe in retiring.

“Retiring is like saying you no longer love what you do, or you are no longer enjoying it. I am very far from feeling that way. I am just as passionate about my work today as I was all those years ago.”