South African Carnatic music expert dies

Patrick Ngcobo, the only indigenous African on the continent to have become an expert of Carnatic music, has died in South Africa, leaving his fans in a state of mourning.

PTI| Last Updated: Feb 04, 2015, 17:57 PM IST

Johannesburg: Patrick Ngcobo, the only indigenous African on the continent to have become an expert of Carnatic music, has died in South Africa, leaving his fans in a state of mourning.

Ngcobo, 43, died on Sunday of renal failure shortly afterbeing admitted to a hospital near his home in Durban.

Despite opposition from his Zulu community where he grew up, Ngcobo insisted on continuing his studies in Carnatic music after first hearing it at the homes of Indian friends living nearby.

Ngcobo joined a local Tamil band and soon endeared himself to audiences by his flawless Tamil renditions of film songs.

But his greater love was for classical Carnatic singing,which he started practising on his own and later with assistance from South Africa's foremost India-trained Carnatic performer, Karthigesan Pillay.

"His mastery of the Tamil language despite it being foreign to him was better even that that of some young Indian South African students," Pillay said.
Pillay and several friends supported Ngcobo's desire to be trained in India, but his big break came when renowned South Indian singer K J Yesudas toured South Africa.

The Indian music legend took Ngcobo under his wing for training in India after hearing him.

At the time, Yesudas said he had never seen such passion for Carnatic music in a person from a totally different culture.

On his return, Ngcobo enthralled audiences all over the country with live performances, but joined the lament about specialists like him and several other South African Indian Carnatic music artists not getting enough financial support to survive with their families.

Ngcobo also became the first and still only Black African presenter of a classical music programme on the national radio station aimed at the Indian community, Radio Lotus.

In recent years, ill health forced Ngcobo to curtail his public appearances and he was largely forgotten except for a few friends who maintained contact, according to his family.

"Patrick would sacrifice anything for his music, even when the community laughed at him about preferring another culture to his own, but later some acknowledged his bold moves as a great step in inter-cultural relations," said his brother Derrick.