A competition that’s a model for diversity

A competition that’s a model for diversity


norman lebrecht

June 20, 2015

We have received these impressions of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2015 from the South African baritone Njabulo Madlala:



The Cardiff Singer of the World’s diversity is really inspiring and assuring. It needs to be congratulated, encouraged and celebrated. The work is terrific! I have watched in awe and wonder.

During this week of the competition I have seen so many people on there that look like me. This is not to say that is what I am constantly looking for but when one sees it it’s impact is huge. On stage I have seen incredible talent of all races,  within the team of presenters and this year even on the panel there is that fantastic singer Claron McFadden. This is something I don’t think has happened before and boy do we need it. We need more of this kind of embrace everywhere especially in classical music where this is happening in very small numbers. I have a lot of admiration and respect for this kind of effort.

The embrace as I call it is not only interesting, morally correct but it’s also desperately needed by the kids aspiring to go into the field and those who could potentially make future opera stars. It makes me proud to have chosen this career path and most importantly to have chosen to come to the UK to study and pursue it where there is always possibility for change and dialogue.

There will be a lot, a lot of young black, Asian etc kids watching and thinking, I can do this too. It’s not just something for a certain few anymore.

It might sound like I am racially aware and maybe I am, I don’t know. But what I do know for sure is this, we and the children need role models and sometimes they really do have to look like us for the message to hit home.

This embrace says to the children and all of us that there are no boundaries and that anything can happen in the arts. How fortunate for us that we have this platform and that we can use it as catalyst that will continue to fuel all our desires for change. Thank you Cardiff Singer of the World ‪#‎BBC‬

(c) Njabulo Madlala/Slipped Disc


  • Ellingtonia says:

    Oh please spare us the PC drivel. You don’t need to have musical role models of the same colour or creed as yourself. All my role models as a teenager were black (and I was a white working class kid brought up on a council estate), Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. It was the music that appealed to me not the colour of their skin so can we try to move into the 21st century.

    • Carla says:

      What a typical comment from an ignorant, self-important white American woman. There is nothing “PC” about this post. It is simply someone expressing their point of view and the positive impact of diversity in the arts has on people of colour. How dare you dismiss his experience in favour of your own? Find your own forum to express you “typical-middle-American” white existence, as if, there aren’t already plenty of those. You clearly have no idea of the historic precedent of how systemic racism has kept singers of colour out of Opera and classical music. You need to do some research before you comment from your ignorance. Your refusal to see anyone else’s experience as valid a part from your own is what’s wrong with America. Shame on you!

      • Tommo says:

        Your criticism of the previous comment assumes Ellingtonia is a white woman and her views are consistent with white middle class Americans. You also advise her to find another forum to express her ‘middle class white existence’. This maybe your view but to express it like you have done is racist and your comment should be removed.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Interesting that you interpret who I am and my gender. For your information I am mid 60s, male, come from the North of England and working class (and was weaned on Northern Soul at Wigan casino) and a pasty shade of white.
        In my teens I was obsessed with “blues music” being heavily influenced by the writings of Alan Lomax and recordings put out by Chess and Atlantic records and taking in Blue Note along the way.
        So spare me your middle class “angst” and PC lectures, “singers of colour” indeed…….when did they change from black singers? And isn’t every performer “one of colour” or do we whiteys get excluded from your little club?

  • Neil Trotman says:

    No, you do not need to have musical role models of the same creed, but it does help. If you see people like yourself doing well, getting where they want to with hard work and dedication, it must instil in you the notion that if I want it bad enough, work hard enough etc etc I can achieve this. Ellingtonia it’s is not drivel, you just refuse to acknowledge that for many people this is indeed so.

  • Rachel Hynes says:

    Ellingtonia, have you ever walked in Njabulo’s shoes? If not, please don’t judge. Njabulo is the kindest, sweetest, most talented man I know and one who has not only triumphed over diversity himself, but is actively helping others from his own background to do so! Much of the great operatic talent that is coming out of South Africa today is down to Njabulo’s tireless work. Bravo to you, dear Njabulo. I feel privileged to have shared the stage with you and to call you my friend! X

    • Tommo says:

      Diversity in South Africa means exclusion of white folks. Oh yes, apartheid is alive and well in RSA today.

  • Anon says:

    And how does Cardiff SOTW achieve this? Without (as far as I am aware), any discrimination. No quotas, no ‘positive discrimination’, no diversity-targets or related wild cards. It’s straightforward and simple – musical and vocal talent alone decide who is in and who is not, and surely that’s all that is required.

  • RED Tendawema says:

    I completely agree with you ELLINGTONIA! One does not need to have musical role models of the same colour or creed as themselves to be inspired! I am a singer songwriter myself and growing up I was inspired by Artists from all different races. For me it was always about the songs! The music, the lyrics and the message that was being sent! That is what was more important to me.
    RED Tendawema

  • Jules Cassidy says:

    I’m a white Australian who has loved opera for 50 years. Last night while watching the final of Cardiff I was thinking about how much things have changed from my early days opera going days when there was little diversity on the concert and opera stage. Now we have people from all over the world to delight and entertain us with their talent and artistry. How much richer and exciting that is – a wonderful young baritone from Ulan Bator..a beautiful bass voice from South Korea.
    I also wondered how that must feel for these young performers to be in what appeared to be a very happy and friendly cosmopolitan environment. So I welcome this article from Njabulo Madlala that tells of his hopes and inspiration and gives us an insight into what that Cardiff experience was like.

    I’m sorry to read what appear to to be harsh and rude and dismissive comments from some posters . As others have said walk a mile in Njabilo’s shoes please before you rush to judgement. One person’s experience should not out-trump and invalidate another’s.