This extraordinary a cappella artist is rebounding from rock bottom


Samkelo Mdolomba took his seat among the three-piece ensemble, his foot following the bassist’s jaunty pluck with a steady tap. He swayed, allowing the instruments around him to breath. And then, after two years of aching dormancy away from the stage, Samthing Soweto closed his eyes, as he always does, opened his mouth, and released an ethereal note that enraptured the room. His unorthodox hums and pops blended around displaced lyrics for the next two hours at the sold-out Soweto Theatre. South Africa’s prodigal talent had returned.

His performance on 25 February 2017 broke a hiatus from the industry that Mdolomba took to allow himself to reach creative maturity, but it wasn’t the first time he made a comeback after an extended silence. The musician became aware of his voice when he was six. Asked to read aloud to his primary school class, Mdolomba struggled to make out the words and was surprised to find himself instead singing in response to the pictures beside the text, before bursting into tears of embarrassment. The innocent moment was his last for some time, as Mdolomba’s school years became enveloped in distraction. Alcohol. Drugs. Then crime. But during it all Mdolomba knew that his true self lay within, waiting to erupt in song.

His record officially turned criminal when he got involved in an armed robbery. After ten weeks in juvenile detention, from which he emerged with a suspended sentence looming over his head, Mdolomba found faith and redirected his life. He turned to music, founding The Soil, a three-man a cappella group. The trio experienced immediate success, with their first album going multi-platinum. Just 19 at the time, Mdolomba’s lack of business savvy caused him to drop out of the project just before it boomed. After his next collaborative venture, The Fridge, failed, he went solo for a while before taking his most recent sabbatical. But he’s been in the wilderness long enough now. It’s time for Samthing to sing us something sweet again.