Medical graduate’s music is a tonic for the ears

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Medical graduate’s music is a tonic for the ears

Having ditched medicine to follow her musical dream, singer-songwriter Luanga Choba is now releasing her debut album in the genre she dubs “gonzo soul”.

This go-getting singing doctor will be launching her first CD, Luanga Who?, at 6pm on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 at the House of Baobab in the Maboneng Precinct, in downtown Johannesburg.

Luanga – the stage name of University of Cape Town medical graduate Sibongile Mhlongo –penned all 14 tracks on the album, released under her own label, Xhimvwani Records and Publishing. She says she coined the term “gonzo soul” for her world-music inflected sound after failing to find a “box” for her particular genre.

“I’m not musically educated and don’t understand genre – and I think I speak for most composers when I say genre is a prison. It’s a stifling of creativity. So after a good bit of research, the word ‘gonzo’ felt just right.” Of course, the term originated as a description for the writing of maverick journalist Hunter S Thompson, who used subjective first-person narratives, emotions and experiences in his writing and shunned conventional objective reportage.

South African born and bred, but with Zambian ancestry, the songbird explains that “luanga” means “this charm it is yours” in Zambia’s Chikunda language. “Charm as in a traditional doctor’s charm to bring you wellbeing or healing, or ward off evil spirits,” she explains.

She hopes that combining her natural talent for music with her medical background will allow her to explore the healing magic of music and touch the lives of many.

Half of the songs on the album were written in her mother tongue, Setswana, which she believes is very poorly represented in the South African music landscape. The remainder are English songs with smatterings of vernacular, and one track is in Nguni. They range from “break-up” songs to stirring odes to mother earth.

The road towards fulfilling her musical dream has been a long and winding one for Luanga Choba, who showed early musical promise but opted to make a detour into practising medicine – the so-called “back-up plan” that many aspiring artists are urged to have – before finally acknowledging where her heart lay.

Born in the small Kimberley village of Sobantu, Luanga always maintained a passion for music and the art of expression through song. Her first venture into music was when she was voted runner-up for her songwriting in the hugely popular Shell Road to Fame talent show in the early 1990s.

After a few years of performing solo, she went on to manage, choreograph and write songs for the girl group Charisma, which progressed to the semi-finals of the Shell Road to Fame thanks to Luanga’s catchy composition Men Are Nothing but Trouble – and it was this song that led her to win the competition herself the following year.

In spite of these early fruitful forays into the music business, Luanga decided to pursue a career in another vocation: medicine. Her musical aspirations were put on hold while she studied and graduated with a medical degree from the University of Cape Town in 1999. She practised medicine in the United Kingdom for a few years, but the soul of her beloved South Africa and her burning desire to write songs and sing from the heart maintained a hold on Luanga.

It was for this reason that in late 2012, Luanga finally stepped away from her profession to redirect her focus exclusively on creating her album and performing full time. “Medicine is a rewarding privilege to practise, but it was never my first love,” explains Luanga. “It was always music that flowed through me most naturally.”

Luanga counts local legends like the late Anneline Malebo, Brenda Fassie and Busi Mhlongo as powerful sources of musical inspiration. While deeply connected to her roots as an African woman, Luanga’s music also reflects elements of earthy international artists like Tracy Chapman and India.Arie.

With her distinctive sound and songs reflective of her free spirit, energy and eclectic musical sensibility, Luanga Choba promises to be one of the freshest acts to hit South African entertainment landscape this year. “Music is like breathing to me and my purest reflection of self,” says Luanga. “I look forward to sharing the melodies, memories and manifestation of who I am as an authentic yet cosmopolitan African woman once this album is released.”

For RSVP, Interview requests and access to high resolution pictures contact

JT Communication Solutions on media@jtcomms.co.za or 011 788 7632

Issued by JT Communication Solutions on Behalf of Luanga Choba