South African Composer Mbongeni Ngema Dies in Car Crash | Playbill

Obituaries South African Composer Mbongeni Ngema Dies in Car Crash

Mr. Ngema was the creative mind behind Sarafina! and the vocal arranger for The Lion King.

Mbongeni Ngema, the acclaimed South African composer, playwright, director, choreographer, and producer, was killed in a car crash December 27. He was 68.

Raised in the heart of Zululand during Apartheid, Mr. Ngema was the creative mind behind the musical Sarafina!, which explored a young student's fight against racial segregation after her teacher is jailed by the Apartheid regime. Coming to Broadway in 1988, Mr. Ngema directed and wrote the book for the musical and co-wrote the music and lyrics with Hugh Masekela.

Sarafina! was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. Running for nearly 600 performances on Broadway, the musical was adapted into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg. In 1995, he penned a sequel, titled Sarafina II, to address the prejudices of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

In addition to Sarafina!, Mr. Ngema's Woza Albert was an immense international success, premiering in 1981 and going on to run for decades across the world in various forms. The satire explores the second coming of Jesus Christ when he returns to South Africa as a Black man. While the piece has never played Broadway, it is considered one of the most successful South African plays in modern history, winning more than 20 awards throughout the international circuit.

Mr. Ngema's other productions include Township FeverMama, Asinamali, Maria Maria, The Zulu – The Musical, 1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter, The House of Shaka, and The Lion of the East.

In the late 1990's, Mr. Ngema wrote and arranged many songs for popular artists, and was one of the vocal arrangers for Disney's animated classic The Lion King. In recent years, however, Mr. Ngema fell out of popular favor in South Africa, with allegations of abuse levied by members of the 2019 revival of Sarafina! and by his ex-wife, Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema.

Mr. Ngema is survived by his extended family. Information on a public memorial is forthcoming.

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