You think your day is progressing in the most fantastic way possible, and then you stumble across the legendary Sibongile Khumalo’s rendition of the late great Victor Ntoni (1947-2013) song Wathula Nje; and then the day just gets better. Simply because you quickly come to the realization that whatever the Apostle John may have heard in his prophetic visions in the book of Revelations, which he identifies as singing Angels, may very well have sounded like Sibongile Khumalo’s voice (or something close).
The recording, taken off her “Greatest Hits” album which was first released in 2006 by Sony Music Entertainment, was initially featured on the album “Quest” which was released in 2001. It is a song which enjoys a distinguished status within the South African song book; as it has been covered by a great variety of artists. Most notably being the house version released in the 2013 album titled “Africa Rising” by the internationally renowned Black Coffee, in which he actually features Victor Ntoni himself on vocals.
The song, written in isi-Xhosa, is about someone who was so wronged by a lover that they confesses of being in the depths of their sorrows (ezinzulwini zosizi). The singer pleads with the lover not to dismiss the shameless attempt (sukundi shalazela, ndinje nguwe) to mend bridges and rekindle what they had.
One could argue that the singer might have a history of violence, or at the very least a history of being unpredictable in tense situations; as throughout the song the singer constantly seeks to reassure the lover not to be “afraid” but to come closer (sondela sithandane, sukundoyika). Throughout the song the lyrics are loaded with an expression of a defeated state of desperation on the singer’s part. But to the lover’s defense, you can understand the trepidation, as in every chorus the singer scolds the lover, demanding a response (Thetha! Wathula nje?). Or on the flip-side, the lover could just be so appalled at their own behavior that they cannot find the words to expressed just how sorry he/she is.
I have heard the song a millions times by different artists. But I have to say the lyrics take on a different life when sung by a woman. For an example, why would the lover be afraid to come closer, such that the singer needs to constantly reassure them? What has the lover done to break the singer down to such a defeated state? What has the singer done in the past to induce such mistrust that the lover remains apprehensive to accept the singer’s advances? I wish I could wake Victor Ntoni from his grave and ask what inspired the song.
As always, Sibongile Khumalo’s execution is simply flawless. But better yet the accompanying flute solo, gives the song a completely different texture, which makes the sadness and desperation of the singer’s words even more palpable.
Themba A Dikgale