Primary Instrument: Arranger
Caiphus Semenya - arranger, composer, bandleader, vocalist
Caiphus Semenya is one of South Africa’s foremost musical directors and composers, dedicating a lifetime of work as a performer and arranger of African music.
Semenya left South Africa in the 1960's, together with his wife, singer Letta Mbulu. Whilst in exile, he worked with compatriots Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Hotep Galeta, and Miriam Makeba amongst many others.
He subsequently took up residence in Los Angeles, where his talent resulted in work with the top range of American artists and producers, and saw his compositions being performed by Cannonball Adderley, Harry Belafonte, Herb Alpert, The Crusaders, Lou Rawls, and Nina Simone, amongst others.
Most notable have been Semenya’s regular collaborations with Quincy Jones. The association has seen Semenya composing all the African music for Alex Hayley’s Roots Pt 1 and Pt 2, and also the African music for the Steven Spielberg-directed The Color Purple. Semenya’s work for Color Purple earned him an Oscar Nomination.
Semenya has composition credits for several tracks on Quincy Jones’ album Back on the Block, including the melody for the title track, which received a Grammy Award as album of the year in 1995.
As a performing artist and big band arranger, Semenya toured Africa with the production BUWA during the 1980's. He is probably best known to the home audience through the performances of Caiphus & Letta, and hit songs such as Angelina and Matswale.
In 1989, he was the musical director for the South African component of the Wembley Stadium Nelson Mandela Tribute concert. He returned from exile in 1990, and in 1991 headlined the Unity concert at FNB Stadium.
The 1990's saw Semenya working both sides of the Atlantic, whilst he and his family relocated to Johannesburg. Celebrated performances included the Africa Night at Montreux Jazz Festival, a sold out series at Sun City, and numerous open air concerts - often together with his wife Letta Mbulu.
Semenya released Woman’s got a right to be in 1995, and collaborated with Jonas Gwangwa to script the music for the launch of the African Union.
In April 2004, together with Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Letta Mbulu and Sibongile Khumalo, he formed the Creative Collective, which co-ordinated the musical and artistic programme for South Africa's Ten Years of Freedom celebrations.
Caiphus and his wife Letta Mbulu were hometown crowd favorties at the 2006 Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which is held every year.