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The night the music stopped

The show was full that night – a Saturday night nearly four years ago. The crowd sang along. They whistled and clapped. They were having a good time. They were listening to Lady Africa sing”l never loved a man”.

Lady Africa felt good. She was making people happy. She felt like the queen of the world. Then something happened. Her right cheek felt hot and funny – like a hairy spider was walking on her. The feeling went down the side of her body. And then the darkness …

She woke up. The crowd was gone. The music had stopped. She felt alone. She called for help. But her voice was gone. She tried to get out of bed. But her legs wouldn’t move.

Lady Africa was very sick. And she knew it. She lay in hospital. The weeks and months went by. She had lots of time to think.

She thought about her childhood in Queenstown. She remembered singing in the school choir. And singing Xhosa songs with the other young girls on the way to the river. Young Nomvul’inile Margaret Mcingana loved to sing. She often thought about the great Mirriam Makeba. She wanted to sing like her.

Margaret’s parents were poor people. They loved their daughter. But when she spoke about singing like Mirriam Makeba, they said she was dreaming.

But Margaret was not dreaming. She knew what she wanted. One day she finished cleaning the house. She changed her clothes and packed a small parcel. She went to the station and caught a train to Johannesburg. She was eighteen years old.

Margaret stepped off the train at Park Station, Johannesburg. Her eyes were big and her heart was beating. She saw people wherever she looked. She looked up and saw buildings touching the sky. She heard cars hooting and hawkers shouting. She was in a different world.

Margaret needed money. So she soon found a job. She did domestic work in Park­town. The work was boring. But Margaret never stopped singing. She sang while she cleaned the house. And she sang while she washed the pots and pans.

One day her employer had some visitors. They asked Margaret to sing. Her employers put her singing onto a tape recorder. When Margaret stopped singing, they played the song back on the tape recorder. Margaret looked at the peoples’ faces. She saw they loved her singing. She knew she was good.

Margaret waited for her chance. Then she heard a place called Dorkay House was looking for singers. Margaret went to Dorkay House. They liked her voice. They asked her to sing in a play called Sponono. The play did well. The play went to America – and Margaret went with the play.

Margaret learnt and saw many things in America. She also changed her name. People in America could not say Nomvul’inile Mcingana. So she called herself Margaret Singana. But many people called her Lady Africa. They said she was the best singer in Africa.

Lady Africa went forward fast. She never looked back. She was the star in the play lpi-Tombi. She made hit songs like “Hamba bhekile”, “Stand by your man” and “I never loved a man”. She won prizes in South Africa and other countries. Her dream was coming true.

And then on the Saturday night four years ago, the dream stopped suddenly. Now Lady Africa lay in hospital. She thought about the past for many months. And thousands of her fans asked “Is Lady Africa finished?”

Then one morning Lady Africa woke up. She whispered “Igorha lifel’ edabini” (A soldier dies in battle). “I must stop thinking about the past. I must think about the future. Tell my fans I’m coming back”.

Lady Africa started all over again. She struggled for three years. Her voice came back slowly. And she forced herself to stand up. She worked hard every day. The days were long and filled with pain.

Lady Africa did not suffer for nothing. Her beautiful voice came back. She went back to work last year. She made a record called “Nothing to Fear”. On the record she sings “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”.

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