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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

SA’s Innocent Masuku on being a finalist on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and exposing people to Opera

Innocent Masuku is from the same area as world renowned opera singer, Pretty Yende in Mkhondo- previously known as Piet Retief.

South African opera singer Innocent Masuku might not have won Britain’s Got Talent (BGT), but he is satisfied that the opera genre reached people it would not have reached had he not entered the TV competition.

“Opera is a really powerful genre I believe; a lot of people don’t like it because they don’t know it. Some people don’t connect to opera not necessarily because they don’t like it, it’s just because they’ve never heard it,” Masuku told The Citizen.

It’s an icy Friday in midday in Johannesburg and Masuku chats to The Citizen on a Zoom call while in the South of London, in Kent, just days after reaching the finale of BGT where he came fourth.

“My ambition going there I knew that, that platform is huge and a lot of people would get an opportunity to hear me…also, because I’m a guy of colour and mostly opera is associated with white people,” he said.

Having reached the final after a stunning performance in the semi-final, he thought he’d at least be in the top three “I thought I’d get the third, second or first position…four was a shock to my system.”

ALSO READ: From Secunda to London: SA opera star triumphs in UK

Britain’s Got Talent

Draped in traditional garb during his audition performance, Masuku said the audience probably expected him to dance or make jokes on stage.  “When I started signing people were shocked,” he said.

The South African Tenor wasn’t feeling confident when he made his debut, looking at some of the talented contestants who also came to audition.

 “I didn’t even think I was going to make it that far. The very first audition I came to, there were really talented people-I’m like, how am I going to compete with this,” said Masuku.

But it was his semi-final performance where he belted his rendition of Hans Zimmer’s Now We Are Free that caught the attention of many around the world.

“Before I went on stage, I was not feeling well, vocally. My voice was just acting funny…walking onto that stage I was feeling really nervous but what calmed down my nerves was the bigger purpose and to sing that song and make sure I capture that moment,” he shared.

So good was his showing in the Semi-final that he became the first act to go to the finals of the show.

“I was really pleased with my performance and the reaction from people around the world, I couldn’t have expected it.”

In true South African style, no one paid attention to the singer while he was still in the country but Masuku’s success has brought a sense of pride for Mzansi citizens.

“The response from South Africa, I didn’t expect that. I didn’t anticipate that people would see it…I was feeling like Bafana Bafana representing the country,” shared the 34 years-old.

Since his appearance on BGT he said gigs have been flooding in, particularly those from back home.

“I’ve had quite a few people emailing us, promising engagement…mostly from South Africa and here a few as well. But mostly in South Africa, I’ll be flying in and out doing corporate gigs” shared the singer.

He said his experience on the show was connected him with other South African citizens who are expats.

Even High Commissioner to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Jeremiah Nyamane Mamabolo attended Masuku’s performance in the finale.

“This whole BGT experience has linked me with many South Africans, here and at home.”

Masuku utilized that South African connection when he campaigned for votes on the show, while Mzansi citizens were in the queue to vote in England, because BGT permits votes only from Britain.

Innocent Masuku with South Africans living in the UK. Picture: Supplied

“They [the embassy] said ‘Innocent when you come to vote, come with t-shirts and print some flyers, while people are standing on the line, tell them about the competition.’”

ALSO READ: WATCH: Pretty Yende’s moving performance at King Charles’ coronation

Life in the UK

Masuku has been based in the UK for nearly five years now, after relocating to complete his studies in opera.

He first studied at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) for four years and decided to move abroad, but said he struggled with funds when he first arrived in the European country.

“I had problems with funds but The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust really came through and they assisted me with living expenses, after that I was able to live properly because the expenses are really high.”

He completed his studies in 2022 and later on that year began working as an opera singer.

“Since then I’ve been working with the English National Opera, the Scottish [National] opera, Garsington Opera…so I’ve been working but it hadn’t been on a big scale, I’ve been doing small roles there and there,” said the South African expat.

Masuku is originally from Mkhondo, previously known as Piet Retief, ironically the same area where world-renowned opera singer Pretty Yende hails from.

Mkhondo kids: Pretty Yende with Masuku. Picture: Supplied

“Walking to Pretty Yende’s house from my house in Mkhondo is about a 30 minutes’ walk,” he shared.  The two have linked up in Europe when Yende was hosting a masterclass and she’s also been supportive of Masuku’s career.

Masuku recently tied the knot to his partner, Nai Chiswo. “In March we were in South Africa for the traditional wedding and we had the white wedding this side,” he shared.

Wedding day in South Africa. Picture Supplied

He quipped that he thought he’d win BGT and use some of the prize money for the honeymoon.  

“We are still thinking how we’re going to pay for the honeymoon…but at least the upcoming gigs might help.”

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