Lebo Mathosa was a rising South African pop star who had captivated numerous fans with her powerful voice and provocative dance style for over a decade before her untimely death in a car crash. Known for her dyed blonde hair and daring onstage outfits, she was often compared to anti-apartheid Afropop singer Brenda Fassie, who was her idol and mentor. She initially gained recognition for her involvements with the kwaito music group 'Boom Shaka' and later established herself as a solo artist. She received several honors at 'South African Music Awards' for her debut album 'Dream' and her second album 'Drama Queen', while her third album was nominated at UK's 'Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards'. She was internationally known and performed with a bunch of Black artists like Keith Sweat, P Diddy, and 2face Idiba. She was also an activist who participated in AIDS awareness campaigns and fought for women rights issues. She was portrayed by Keabetswe 'KB' Motsinyalane in the recent BET Africa Network biographical miniseries 'Dream: The Lebo Mathosa Story'.
Childhood & Early Life
Lebo Mathosa was born on July 16, 1977, in Daveyton, a township on the East Rand of Johannesburg, South Africa, to Nomvula Magdeline and Madimetsha Gerriet Mathosa. Her family first moved to Pietersburg, and then to Johannesburg, where she attended St. Mary's High School.
She began singing in church choir when she was seven, and after moving to Johannesburg, discovered the disco-infused bubblegum music that was popularized by artists like Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
When she was 14, she caught the attention of a key Johannesburg DJ with her singing and dancing, following which Fassie took the rising talent under her wing, touting her as the next Brenda Fassie.
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Career With Boom Shaka
Lebo Mathosa's career started when she was invited to join the group 'Boom Shaka', which was put together by music producer Don Laka, who had heard her singing at a club in Johannesburg. The group, which pioneered in kwaito, a variant of house music featuring the use of African sounds and samples, became immensely popular within a short period.
The group released its first single, 'It's About Time', in 1993, followed by its first album the next year, and became one of the most successful bands in South Africa in the mid-1990s. They purposefully focused their distinctive sound, visual style, and dance moves to appeal to youth audiences throughout the country and often drew from traditional African dance moves.
However, some claimed that the popularity of the group was in part due to teenaged Mathosa's dance routine and revealing clothing, which shocked many who interpreted her daringness as female objectification. The group was further accused of degradation in the name of liberation when they performed a kwaito version of the South African national anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika at the 1997 FNB 'South African Music Awards'.
In 1999, Lebo Mathosa decided to leave 'Boom Shaka', when it was at the peak of success, to pursue a solo career, following which the group broke up. Apart from making a name for herself, she also negotiated full publishing rights to her work, which was unheard of in South African music scene at the time.
She released her debut solo album 'Dream' in mid-2000, and it received gold certification within a month. She was named the 'Best Female Vocalist' at the 2000 'South African Music Awards', where she also won two more awards: 'Best Dance Album' for 'Dream' and 'Best Dance Single' for her debut single 'Ntozabantu'.
In 2001, she traveled to London, England, to perform at an event in Trafalgar Square celebrating South Africa's establishment of multiracial democracy. The same year, she also performed at South African edition of North Sea Jazz Festival.
Comparisons with her idol Brenda Fassie intensified after the latter died from a suspected drug-induced cardiac arrest in 2004. However, she said at the time that she would "learn from the negative and the positive aspects" and avoid the excesses Fassie was known for.
Amidst rumors of her own death in 2004, she released her second album, 'Drama Queen', the title of which properly captured her lifestyle of tantrum, fast cars and alcohol. The album, which used a mixture of styles to break out of the kwaito mould, was able to top the music chart in South Africa and won the 'SA Music Award for Best Dance Album'.
She further solidified her status as a sex symbol by appearing in South African version of 'The Vagina Monologues' in 2004, which also sent out a strong feminist message. She soon became a role model for many young South African women and was dubbed 'The New Madonna of the Townships' due to her pro-feminist attitude and shocking onstage sexuality.
In 2006, she released her third album 'Lioness', which earned her a nomination in the 'Best African Act' category at Britain's annual 'Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards' in 2006.
Lebo Mathosa, who had previously ventured into acting with a guest appearance on the 1997 South African soapie 'Muvhango', received more acting opportunities following the success of her debut album. She appeared in guest roles on several national television soap operas like 'Generations' and 'Backstage', and also acted in the 2003 film 'Soldiers of The Rock'.
Family & Personal Life
Lebo Mathosa unwittingly revealed her sexuality in 2002 when she became involved in a catfight with her friend and actress Hlubi Mboya at the 'South African Music Awards' for "talking to my girl" Sibongile Ngubane. However, she later called 'City Press' to state that she cannot be lesbian because "I lost my virginity to a man when I was 14", adding that her relationship with Ngubane, her dancer, was professional.
She had planned to launch her own label and almost completed her fourth album when the 29-year-old star died in a car accident shortly after midnight on October 23, 2006. She was going from one party to another and was on the N3 highway near Germiston on the East Rand when her driver lost control of her luxury Toyota Prado Land Cruiser.
Her memorial service was held a few days later at the Sandton Convention Centre where her family members, close friends and former band-mates paid tribute to her. There was a call for forgiveness for the 20-year-old driver of her car, who was not injured in the accident.
Thirteen years after her death, BET Africa Network decided to produce a six-part biographical miniseries on her titled 'Dream: The Lebo Mathosa Story', which began airing on November 6, 2019. The much-hyped series largely disappointed fans for its uninspired narrative, and because many felt that Keabetswe 'KB' Motsinyalane could not do justice to the diva's portrayal.
Sibongile Ngubane was interviewed as Lebo Mathosa's 'lover' by 'Sunday World' for her involvement with the BET biopic series, which she described as an "emotional roller coaster" ride. Mathosa was one of the many women who were romantically linked to retired South African footballer Theophilus 'Doctor' Khumalo.