BY BILLY SUTER
THE South African theatre and music community grieved last night (July 8) and social media tributes poured in, following news of the sudden death of ebullient, popular, humble and versatile Durban Diva, Pinkie Mtshali. She was 50.
It is understood the operatically trained, versatile singer, actress and mentor had suffered a sudden heart attack. She was known to have had heart problems.
A popular member of The Durban Divas vocal group, Mtshali was born on September 11, 1969, in Umlazi, Durban. After matriculation in 1986, she studied opera at Natal Technikon (now Durban University of Technology), majoring in voice.
In 1989, she worked as an opera singer at The Playhouse Company in Durban for three years, and in 1992 joined the Capab Opera Company in Cape Town for five-and-a-half years.
“When the opera companies closed down in 1996, I had to start freelancing as an all-round singer, as there were no opportunities for young opera singers,” Mtshali said in an 2017 interview with me, to publicise her show, Disco Fever. It is available in full on this site… click here: https://wp.me/p8dL0W-1uE.
“I sang at different shows in many venues around South Africa and in neighboring countries, touring with different companies – from opera to popular music. I performed with numerous musicians, bands and orchestras… like the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, City Orchestra, Johannesburg Orchestra, Durban Music School’s Wind Orchestra and the Moravian Orchestra in the Cape,” she added.
“I established a new career in the music world – pop, jazz, African, rock, rhythm and blues, gospel… I did it all to stay in the industry.”
Her first major stage role was in February, 1994 – Show Boat in Bloemfontein’s Andre Huguenot theatre, for Pacofs. Mtshali sang the role of Queenie… and she recalled that her mother and brother came from Durban to see her on stage.
“It was the most fulfilling moment of my life,” she said in the 2017 interview.
In May 1994, she featured in the rock musical Hair, at Johannesburg’s Civic Theatre, as Mother Goddess. She sang the opening number, Aquarius, and was lowered to the stage in a fancily decorated chair.
She said in 2017 that that memory still brought “butterflies to my stomach”, adding: “It was my huge break from opera and, for the first time, my picture made the front cover in The Daily News. I framed the picture.”
From then on Mtshali was cast in different shows and concerts, singing with different bands and orchestras all over South Africa.
Her theatre successes included a 1997 comic performance alongside Durban’s Lisa Bobbert and Aaron McIlroy in the hit Abbamaniacs, which she rated as another career highlight.
“We toured South Africa for four years at different intervals, and I had fun every time on stage acting, singing and dancing to this popular music. The role earned me a nomination for best supporting role at the FNB Theatre Awards in 1998.
“Being part of that show taught me a lot about discipline as a performer and observing how the show directors (Aaron McIlroy and Lisa Bobbert) put the show together, encouraged me to create my own cabaret show. I then fulfilled a dream of forming a female trio that sang all genres off music. That was the birth of my Durban Divas cabaret trio.”
Mtshali, who oozed charisma, was also of note for mentoring young performers and for co-ordinating entertainment at the Moyo restaurant in Durban. She was also involved with the Durban Blues Festival.
She had a keen eye for colourful wigs and fashion, was ever-smiling and always ready to give a hug. She said in 2017, in reply to my interview question, asking her to tell us some things about herself: “I watch Nigerian movies before I go to bed. I am obsessed with taking photos. I am always sober, as I don’t drink. I love people, and it is important for me to embrace everyone I meet!”
Singer-actress and music teacher Shelley McLean, who often performed with Mtshali, wrote on her Facebook page: “Precious ‘PinksMalinks’ , you were the essence of all things good, nurturing and caring. Your sudden departure has rocked this world. May you rest in peace.”
Stage, TV and film star Jailoshini Naidoo wrote: I can’t believe you’re gone, my darling Pinkie. This is so, so heartbreaking! You were such a ray of sunshine, and joy and happiness. Rest in peace, my angel.”
Singer-actress Tonya Koenderman wrote on Mtshali’s Facebook page: “I am shocked to hear you are gone. You were always such a light of joyous life, with this big heart that embraced anyone you came into contact with. May you sing with the angels, dear heart. The world is a lesser place for not having you in it.”
Another Durban performer who often shared a stage with Mtshali, Marion Loudon, said: “My darling Pinks, I just adored you. Rest in peace, you incredible woman”.
As for me, I will always remember Pinkie’s vivacity and love for life; her yelling out “Bill-eeeeeee!” whenever she saw me and reached out for a tight hug. She was a huge talent. A wonderful woman. Rest in peace, special lady!