Ngubani uSiphelo Alfred “Nqontsonqa” Dyongman
“Igama lam ndi nguSiphelo MaZotshwandile Dyongman. Ndizalelwe eMakhanda, eRhini. Ndiyimbongi — umbali wamabali— kunye nonobalisa wentsomi.” (My name is Siphelo MaZotshwandile Dyongman. I was born in Makhanda, eRhini. I am a praise singer — a writer of stories— and a reciter of folktales).
On the importance of artistry and identity
The renowned Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, critic, and writer of the book Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe conceptualises identity in a profound manner. “Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.”
His words brought one to an unshakeable reality. The universe may know Dyongman — yet in reality — only he could define himself to the universe. And in retrospect, now that he has departed… my friend expressed himself soundlessly and knew who he was.
“A lot of people know me as a stage praise singer. I began my journey at a time when it was not popular to write praises. We would effortlessly sing praises”.
Journeying through the world stages effortlessly
To Dyongman— known formally by his stage name Nqontsonqa— praise singing was beyond just words and rhyme but a spiritual calling. He recalled how he would get off stage after a performance and when someone refered to a particular part of it, he would not recall. As his journey proceeded, the pen became his armour and sword through which he continued to astrally project stories with until his untimely, 29 October 2022, death.
Nqontsonqa was—above all else — inspired by a deep calling within his spirit to share stories with the universe. The multiple journeys began on platforms like traditional gatherings (imigidi), weddings, funerals, and youth community events. He transcended stages as big as the National Art Festival.
First love was Rhini, Makhanda
“I chose to write about stories in my community because those were the stories I related to and experienced. It is stories which I saw unfold in other people’s lives.”
He used stories as paraphernalia to paint lessons for his community because he saw the need to give back through not only reciting but teaching as a means of giving back.
“Those were the stories that I captured with my eyes. They were not difficult stories. They were stories that would teach if I were to write about.”
His creative process was one that began internally before it flowed out of his mind to his hands.
“It is not an easy thing because I write about a variety of things which happen daily. As such, sometimes a praise song strikes my mind but then I do not find it inspiring to me when I think of it. I write my praise songs in my head before they bleed into paper. My creative process is really dependent on the incident which propels it.”
During this process, Nqontsonqa internally questions his art:
“Is it an urgent praise song that needs to be heard. Because sometimes a thought may strike me. But then I realise, ‘the event has passed. A bigger one is yet to unfold’.
The birth of Nqontsonqa the stage name
“When I was growing up — when I started praising through song — especially when I would perform during the National Arts Festival… When I get off the stage, some audience members would say ‘Ndifuna ubona le imnyama mna. Uyabona le imnyama, ithetha inqontsonqa leya ayidlali!’ What they meant was that my message resonates with them and that is how my stage name became Nqontsonqa.”
Zotsho’s advice to future iimbongi/iimvumi/praise singers
Dyongman often advised upcoming praise singers to “find themselves.” Once you find yourself — you know what you are looking for. “I did not want to go into detail about everything. I wanted to document my community’s stories. That meant I had to develop an observant eye and I write in [my mother tongue] isiXhosa only. I write to my people.”
Siphelo “MaZotshwandile Nqontsonqa” Dyongman (28.08.1990 – 29.11.2022) was a Xhosa man who transported his spirit through words and rhythm. Dyongman was a praise singer and a digital storyteller who shared his praise songs recited in isiXhosa on YouTube and Facebook through video and audio formats.