Sylvia’s Path to Greatness

Sylvia Mdunyelwa’s vibrant musical career has spanned over decades and she continues to be a great influence on the South African jazz scene. 



Sylvia Mdunyelwa is a South African legendary singer, film and television actress, radio personality, motivational speaker and community leader whose robust career spans over 4 decades and has performed to great acclaim all over the world. She is a product of the 1st generation of jazz musicians to emerge out of Langa the 1st township in CT to be officially established following forced removal of African people from kwaNdabeni6 settlement in the 1920s. These include Temmy Hawker, Moses Molelekoa and Christopher Columbus Ngcukana, the pioneers of jazz in Langa. 

Sylvia Ncediwe Mdunyelwa was born in the lively township of Langa, Cape Town. The Langa community is known as a mecca for South African jazz, and it is where Sylvia’s love for the music genre grew and bloomed into an illustrious career. Sylvia’s family all had a role to play in her love for music.

Her parents sang in their church and her siblings were musicians who practised in the back of their home. Sylvia recalls times growing up in a musical home. “Ours was a humble home, which everyone in the Langa community knew.

We were not rich, but spiritually we were,” she says. Sylvia’s sister was a soloist with The Dolly Sisters, while her brother sang with the band Harmony Jigs. Sylvia had an uncle, Aspro Sipoyo, who sang like Sammy Davis, she says.

This was the milieu that inspired the young Sylvia to listen to records of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Lorez Alexandria among others, and learn to sing jazz from the age of 5 with Victor Ntoni who was later producer of her EMI / Blue Note album Ingoma (2000), her second offering which features the cream of Mzantsi jazz: Victor Ntoni, Lawrence Matshiza, Vusi Khumalo, Lulu Gontsana, Fana Zulu, Prince Lengoasa, McCoy Mrubata,Andile Yenana, Herbie Tsoaeli and Bassie Mahlasela with  Khanyo Maphumulo, Debra Fraser, Fancy Galada among the backing vocals.
Her debut CD African Diva (2007) is a live recording of Sylvia’s peformance at the Standard Bank jazz festival in Grahamstown, now known as Makhanda.
Mama Kaap (a nick name given by Rashid Lombard and Clarence Ford in the days of Mannenberg Jazz Cafe in the mid -1990s) as Sylvia is affectionately known in the Mother City, her birth place, worked with the biggest names in the jazz scene – Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Merton Barrow, Duke and Ezra Ngcukana, Cliffie and Basil Moses, Robie Jansen, Tete Mbambisa to name a few, before she got her international break by taking local marimba group Heshoo Beshoo to the International Children’s festival in Canada (1990) followed with a short stint at University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA,1991), Stuttgart, (1992), Berlin Festival (1994, 2001), Bogota, Colombia (1998, 2003, 2006), Tokyo, Japan (2002, 2003, 2004).
In 2007 Sylvia with Sbongile Khumalo produced a show at Cape Town city hall and Artscape 
Sistas Healing our Souls featuring the creme de la creme of Mzantsi women of jazz: Thandie Klaasen, Dorothy Masuka, Gloria Bosman, Tina Schouw, Abegail Kubheka and Xoli Dlamini.
Her acting work includes award-winning Oliver Schmitz / Anand Singh film Shepherds and Butchers, 168 Film Festival Best Actress performance in Freedom Road, including many TV dramas and series over 3 decades.
 Sylvia hosted a jazz show on P4 Radio and Umhlobo Wenene FM respectively and was board member of Fine Music Radio.
She is also a community leader as chairperson of her street committee.
She is chairperson of Langa Arts Association. Sylvia also visits schools and give motivational talks to learners and advice on life skills.
Play Video

Sylvia’s influence has extended to her three children Banzi, Christy and Hlubi. Banzi teaches and performs marimba across the globe, and founded Imbewu Marimba Community, with Sylvia and actor Kwezi Kobus as directors. Christy works for an investment company, while Hlubi is a singer and producer based in Johannesburg.

“I am happy that my children are doing what they love the most. I never had to push them,” says Sylvia. Sylvia believes that the youth of South Africa will carry the legacy of jazz forward.

She had the following to say about continuing the jazz legacy: “Take care of your legends. They took care of South Africa a long time before 1994. They sang songs in order to teach the next person to be humble. Everybody who plays jazz is a smart person”.

~ Music is Life


Sylvia Mdunyelwa Passes the Baton over to the next Generation of talent! She joins us in studio to perform two of her favourite tracks!

Awards & Recognition

Arts & Culture Women Tribute

Tribute to women musicians who contributed to the body of South African music both in and out of the country, who flew the flag of democracy and popularized SA'n struggle throughout the world.

Outstanding Patronage Award

The Arts Patronage Award a way of acknowledging the essential role that patrons play in advancing various aspects of the arts around their communities, the country and around the world.

Film Festival Best Actress Winner Award

Film Festival Award is given to an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance and chosen by the jury from the films in official competition slate at the festival.

IMSFF Media Short Film Award

The Independent Mzansi Short Film Festival (IMSFF) mission is to present quality short films. It recognize and honour filmmakers creating a films under ±25 minutes. Sylvia won Best Actress in short film.

Outstanding Contribution to Arts & Culture Award

It is awarded to South Africans who have excelled and made a meaningful contribution in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sports in their Provinces.

Western Province Cultural Award

This award celebrates individuals and organizations who have made a significant contribution in the sectors of arts, culture, language, libraries, archives, heritage and museums across the province.