The Kennedy Center

Nonhlanhla Kheswa


Nonhlanhla Kheswa grew up between two hardscrabble townships of Johannesburg-- Alexandra and Soweto--and professes to love them both equally. She credits several primary school teachers with instilling in her a love of storytelling and singing. She attended Soweto's Morris Isaacson High School, where--two decades before Kheswa's time there, more precisely, from June 13–16, 1976--the Soweto Uprising, a turning point in South African political history, had been set in motion by Teboho Mashinini and other students. Before leaving school in 1998 Kheswa was recruited by South African film and television director Darrell Roodt (Sarafina!; Cry, the Beloved Country; Dangerous Ground; Winnie Mandela) for a role in his Soul City. On the heels of that, the illustrious composer and producer Lebohang Morake snatched her up for Disney's The Lion King, where she cut her teeth on Broadway for over five years. While making a name as a featured vocalist in Wyclef Jean's ensembles for nearly a decade after leaving The Lion King, Kheswa delved into both the New York City jazz scene and Brooklyn's eclectic, cross-pollinating youth music culture. Nourished by that ethos, Kheswa became even more of a musical polymath. Her band, Kheswa & Her Martians, is steeped in the hard-bop accents of Jackie McLean and Gary Bartz, the spirituality of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, and, naturally, the diverse strands of the South African jazz subculture. Meadowlands, Stolen Jazz is the band's 2013 debut recording. Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne discovered Kheswa at a 2011 audition at New York University for The Suit, and she has since toured the world with this production.

Current as of March 2014
Nonhlanhla Kheswa