Singer, songwriter, choreographer, and dancer, Sbongiseni “Bongi” Duma has been in the cast of The Lion King on Broadway for more than a dozen years. He was nominated for a 2014–2015 Drama Desk Award for best music in a play (Generations). He has also worked as a composer, musical director, and choreographer for The Mighty Zulu Nation and Africa Africa. He performs his own music regularly with his band and with Uzalo, a Brooklyn-based music collective.
Tshidi Manye, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, made her Broadway debut in The Lion King in 2004 and continues to perform regularly in the role of Rafiki. She has also starred in the European and Japanese tours of Sarafina! and has appeared onstage with Paul Simon, David Byrne, and Hugh Masekela.
Zulu is a dominant culture in South Africa, the home of 10–11 million Zulu people. The music played by Sbongiseni “Bongi” Duma and Tshidi Manye combines deeply rooted Zulu traditions with more contemporary Zulu styles— all of which hinge on harmony. In many African traditions, melodies are sung in unison; in Zulu music, harmony emerges naturally whenever people sing together.
One of the first popular South African songs to incorporate this harmonic tradition was “Mbube” (“Lion”), recorded by Solomon Linda in 1939. Linda’s harmonic approach came to be known as mbube. His hit song, first adapted and popularized in the United States by Pete Seeger as “Wimoweh” (a mistaken transliteration of uyimbube, meaning, “You are a lion”), further evolved to become “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which students might know from The Lion King.
Bongi and Tshidi met in the cast of The Lion King on Broadway more than a dozen years ago and continue to perform in the show today. Both were born in South Africa and grew up singing songs from the Zulu tradition. Tshidi has focused her career on musical theater; Bongi is also a composer and songwriter who performs his own original music with his band.