Sebokeng-born Lebo Sekgobela is one of the most impactful gospel singers right now, and she’s not going anywhere. Rhodé Marshall speaks to the Lion of Judah singer on her return from her UK tour.
Johannesburg - She roars when she sings. Hitting every note with a punch that hits you right in the gut. You’re left with chills as you’re lifted into this heavenly stake of the gospel industry she now owns. When a song is played in both churches and taverns, you know it’s a real hit. During a chat over the phone this week, I’m met by a faint voice on the other side that I can barely hear. One quite the opposite of what I’ve grown accustomed to from tracks like Lion of Judah – one of the biggest hits of 2016. It’s a song that made me remember the name and voice of Lebo Sekgobela.
Sekgobela has just returned from a hectic UK tour that had her sing back-to-back shows, travel from one city to another with rehearsals in between and little rest. She’s lost her voice, but she’s determined to speak to #Trending, and says from what I can make out: “I’m very honoured to speak to you and have been looking forward to the interview.”
Because I can hardly hear Sekgobela and fear I could be adding to her already strained vocal chords, we decide to talk via email.
“The UK tour was great. We had a great time ministering that side of the world,” she tells me.
She performed at Al Miraj Hall in Birmingham, Dominion Centre in London, and in Manchester and Leicester with Zimbabwe gospel great Mkhululi Bhebhe and Sbu Noah, better known from Joyous Celebration. The singer says the audience was amazing and welcoming to their music.
CARRYING THE MESSAGE
Perhaps one of the biggest burdens gospel singers carry is that they’re responsible for bringing people closer to God. We’ve seen many buckle under the pressure, but she says she loves ministering in song and helping people to be connected to God. It gives her joy. “True intimacy with God through music is only when you have a relationship with God himself, allowing an intimate moment with him.”
This she says has played an important role in her career, changing her musical gift to a business. “Music is my life and ministering is a lifestyle, so I cannot divide myself to my gift. Everything that happens, it has been set to happen the way it has, there is no coincidence.”
When I ask her whether it’s really possible to balance livelihood, success and sanity in this industry (when others peaked and then sadly disappeared) she says: “It’s through God that we have what we have, including this gift. I cannot live without the spirit of God, for He is the one directing my path.”
RISING ABOVE REJECTION
When reflecting on how she had to remind herself that she’s talented after being rejected repeatedly at auditions, the songstress says that being content with who she is helped her through that period, and even reach for higher levels.
It’s almost impossible to believe that even Joyous Celebrations didn’t think that music was a viable career option for someone who’s become one of the greatest gospel sensations we’ve seen. But Sekgobela kept going back to different auditions, despite the constant rejection, because she believed she had something to offer the world: “Every ladder is a stepping stone to greatness, so allow every rejection to be a ladder.”
While her introduction to the industry wasn’t an easy one for this mother of three, with many people telling her that her music wouldn’t sell, she credits God for the success of her Restored album (it sold more than 90 000 copies in five months)‚ saying that her previous works By His Grace and Ithemba Lami did not do as well, but she believes God knew the perfect time.
“I think it was just God’s time. I cannot take credit for it because I don’t know what happened.”
WAITING UPON THE LORD
Sekgobela had previously revealed intimate details about her rape ordeals as a child in an attempt to help others. The singer said the trauma would live with her forever. The first time Sekgobela was raped was by one of her sister’s friends when she was eight. Sekgobela’s life was threatened should she speak out. The second time a neighbour who offered her a ride when she was 11 years old raped her in the car. I ask her whether it’s even possible to find healing and peace after such trauma at that vulnerable stage in her life. “The greatest medicine is forgiveness and love,” she answers. And I don’t doubt her because watching her perform, the reaction she gets from crowds could only be a result of her being pure-hearted, and I believe she is.
She tells me a song that gave her comfort at the time, even though she didn’t fully understand what she was singing, was Madi A Hae A Tsholoha by legendary gospel singer Rebecca Malope.
For those who haven’t seen the singer live, she plans to visit Klerksdorp, Pretoria, Durban and QwaQwa as part of a national tour, as well as neighbouring countries. As for another album any time soon: “I’m waiting upon the Lord.”