Armed with attitude, violins and cellos, targeted with jeers, sniggers and taunts from the locals, the Khemese brothers ventured bravely to music lessons.
Forbidden by their parents to hang out on the hostile streets, the boys cut their teeth in African choral music and took to playing those funny Euro instruments, mastering them with a natural born ease. The seed had been sown.
In 1978 the dusty road began to clear. Soweto String Quartet was born comprising of Sandile Khemese (1st Violin), Richard Mantu (2nd Violin), Joshua Thelele (Viola) and Reuben Khemese (Cello).
In 1979 Soweto String Quartet (SSQ) was invited to Aberdeen in Haddo House, Scotland, to perform for Lady Aberdeen. This was one of the greatest chances which put the Quartet on the international map.
In 1980 Sandile Khemese and Richard Mantu got a scholarship to attend music studies at the Dartington College of Arts in England. In 1982 they attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester until 1986.
While Sandile and Richard were in England in 1980 Soweto Youth String Quartet comprising of Arthur Mahlatsi (1st Violin), Thami Khemese (2nd Violin), Makhosini Mnguni (Viola) and Duma Skhosana (Cello) was formed. These were the strong players of the String sections of the Soweto Symphony Orchestra after the members of Soweto String Quartet.
In 1981 Soweto Youth String Quartet was performing in the neighbouring schools and churches. In 1982 they made a studio recording of Divertimento K136 by Mozart on the SABC Programme called Iminkininizo. In 1983 Soweto Youth String Quartet attended the Eistaad Ford Music Competition in Roodepoort.
In 1985 Adcock-Ingram, a pharmaceutical company, announced Thami Khemese and Makhosini Mnguni as the recipients of the Adcock-Ingram Scholarship to attend the 1985-1986 South African National Orchestral Course at the University of Natal and the University of Bloemfontein.
In 1986, armed with new music skills, culture, language and life-style; Sandile Khemese and Richard Mantu returned to a politically and hostile South Africa. The Soweto String Quartet was re-born once again, to include Thami Khemese and boyhood friend Makhosini Mnguni.
The Soweto String Quartet sometimes affectionately known as SSQ is a world renowned South African Brand. The last few years have seen SSQ performed around the world as Ambassadors for the new South Africa. SSQ is not your ordinary classic music band. The music is not conventional string quartet sound but uniquely African. It is unique blend of traditional rhythms, township jazz, mbaqanga, pop songs, jazz-fusion and strong classical influences. Their music is a good to soul fusion of the dance rhythms of kwela, the syncopated guitars of Mbaqanga, the saxophone and trumpets of swaying African jazz and the voices of people singing joyous easy harmony. SSQ is made up of three brothers Reuben, Sandile, and Thami and a bosom friend Makhosini Mnguni.
There was an inspiration for children learning violins and inspiring to be like the SSQ. This gave rise to SSQ’s songs played and recorded by the most youth orchestras i.e. Baskaid String Project. The SSQ has thus celebrated 25 years of creating quality music and derive sheer driving pleasure of BMW.
This Quartet became a full-time professional outfit in 1992 and has continued to perform in prominent events across the globe, one such an event was a performance at the historical Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. Many other historical performances have taken place since then. The Soweto String Quartet has touched people’s lives within the African continent and beyond.
Its relevance to the social issues brought hope during a tense transition from apartheid to liberation, therefore set itself apart, separated and far ahead of its peers. Throughout the preceding years, the sweet sound of the group has evolved with the times but maintaining the group’s essence of creating sounds of African heartbeat and soul that espouses music for its soul survival.
On top of mind, when one talks about successful musical groups in Soweto, the Soweto String Quartet lands easily on the list of sustainable musical organizations. The group has defined itself as a pioneer of greatness and ultimate reference point in the genre of music it has come to be known about the world over stringing its way to the mountain top. It is a brand that goes beyond monotonous putting together of musical instrument but theirs is an immaculate blend and discreet selection of sound that tells the great South African stories in particular and Africa in general.
An estimated 20 Million number of people have been reached through album sale since the band’s inception. The reach is of loyal album collectors as well as new audience reached through dedicated projects such as the 2006 Gospel Album that saw sales of more than 50 000 and the recent Afrikaans Album that went platinum after a week of sales.
The classical nature of the music makes for longevity within the purchasers’ household and making for valuable gifts.
The unique positioning of SSQ in terms of its music and performance, SSQ believes that corporate companies stand to benefit tremendously from SSQ performances. This benefit is based on the fact that SSQ is not mass market music, yet very popular. Individuals that attend SSQ shows and functions are individuals of awesome uniqueness. These individuals have a unique desire of achievement, responsibility and accountability. This is a class of achievers; hence the positioning of SSQ.
Remembering late SSQ member Reuben Khemese
Reuben Malusi Khemese, nicknamed Ompie, was part of the formation that gave birth to the Soweto String Quartet in 1978, and officially named in 1979. The formation was inspired by his enthusiasm, passion and love for violin, even though Reuben switched from violin to cello simply because he saw the need to add a bass part to our ensemble. That vision helped to secure the authentic sound of the quartet.
I grew up together with Reuben and became very close brothers. Together we started taking violin classes in Soweto. Building the Brand SSQ commenced in earnest from 1991 with the entire membership contribution. Reuben lead and coordinated the administration, while as Music director it was vital for the ensemble to produce afrobeat in its diversity to our music. The earlier collective vision to launch a strategy to get SSQ on the road promotions to flea markets and malls. Reuben was at the forefront in organising promotions. He was very musical, compassionate, sensitive and very funny… always smiling.
– Sandile Khemese
Reuben Khemese passed away in Johannesburg at the age of 62 in 2016.
Key Career Events
- They perform for Fado for Africa called Africa for the World when Nathalie the Opera singer featuring the Soweto String Quartet at Emperors Palace
- Auto and General invites SSQ to perform (Flashmob-style) at the international Launch of the #Well Campaign.
- They perform at the 18th Cape Town Jazz Festival
- They perform at the South African Freedom Day Celebrations in Kampala Uganda.
- They perform at the Provincial Legislature
- They perform at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa
- They perform at a Launch of Harvard University School of African Studies in Illovo.
- On the 8th June until 27 July they are invited to a Tour by the Government of Khazakskan where for the first time African countries were represented in the African Plaza Pavilion. It was 21 African Countries in the pavilion. They were recommended by Ambassador Ms Keitumetsi Seipilo Thandeka Matthews.
- They perform at the South African Reserve Bank gala dinner hosted by Governor Lesija Kganyago for African Central Bank governors.
- SSQ collaborates with HHP (Jabba) at a Whiskey tasting for the client to get PR exposure
- They perform at Ekurhuleni West TVET college graduation ceremony in Kempton Park
- They perform at the Launch of IBM laboratory Ribbon cutting and cocktail function
- They perform at Ladies formal function where Thabo Mbeki is a Patron of the Event in Sandton convention center
- They perform for Government employee Medical scheme gala dinner at Soweto Hotel
- They are invited by (AYU) AFRICAN YOUTH UNION to perform for them and do a workshop.
- CNN’s Ones to watch contact SSQ for a video shoot that’s going to be watched globally at Mofolo park.
- They perform live for students at Kings Way Campus University of Johannesburg (UJ
- They perform at a Silver wedding in Maputo where they perform with a world-renowned soloist Stella Mendonqa.
- They meet with a delegation from Brazil (Niteroi) for a project of cultural exchanges with Africa that will take place in Rio de Janeiro. It’s about 13 days of Pluricultural, academic and touristic meetings in the whole city (cultural centers, universities, school, beaches and squares.
- They perform at a relaunch of biggest jazz promoters in Swaziland called Indibano Jazz Promotion.
- They perform for African Rainbow Mineral (ARM) where Patrice Motsepe was a speaker.
- They perform for China Africa poverty deduction & development conference hosted by Department of rural development & land reform, the SA state council leading group office of poverty alleviation & development and P. R China at Gallagher Estate.
- They perform at Desmond Tutu celebrations event, free public event in Cape Town.
- They perform at a cruise liner that was cruising around Southern Afriica.
- They perform at Unisa for International Flute and Clarinet Competitions.
- They perform at President Mugabe’s Daughter’s wedding in Zimbabwe
- They perform at South African Reserve Bank where Governor Jill Marcus was a speaker.
- They once again are invited to perform on a cruise from Durban to Capetown for guests from the USA for 4 days.
- They are nominated for their latest Afrikaans Speel Treffers Volume 2 at a Goema Afrikaans Music Awards in Carnival City.
- SSQ is invited to perform in the Middle East (Oman) by the SA Embassy
- They perform in Maputo at a cclassical Season for Xiiquitsi Project.
- Botswana Cultural Celebrations in Botswana
- They perform at Agang Launch in Pretoria.
- Grahamstown Jazz Festival
- They record their second volume of SSQ Speel Afrikaans Treffers.
- They perform in collaboration with Prime Circle and Lloyd Cele at Gold Reef city at an MTN Event.
- July- National Youth Jazz Festival in Grahamstown
- CSIR gala dinner in Pretoria
- Emperors Palace: Visual Production of the nominated structural steel project & awards on stage.
- Norwood rooftop at Norwood Mall.
- Cansa relay for life at Denel in Irene.
- Training academy Launch- Member of commerce and industry.
- Dinner function- Conference with delegates attending from across Africa.
- They perform with Gerhard Steyn and Dozi in Centurion.
- They perform at Emperors Palace to audience that comprises of VIP Ministers and Government officials.
- They perform at an event for Higher education (Enabling Further Collaboration between higher education, government and Industry for research and innovation.
- SSQ depart for Rwanda for the 18 years of Genocide celebrations.
- They perform in Korea at the national day and Film festival.
- They perform in Limpopo for the Coca-Cola annual event that runs for a week.
- Coca-Cola award ceremony
- Jewish Community: Union of Orthodox Synagogues of SA. They perform at a high profile and famous International Jewish guests.
- They perform for Civil Aviation Authority at Emperors Palace.
- They perform for the first time at a Soweto Festival of Light in Mofolo Soweto.
- Novartis Pharmaceutical invites SSQ to perform at their conference.
- SSQ is invited by Full Circle Africa based in Tanzania to do a mini Tour for a period of 3 weeks and it was a huge success.
- They are invited by South African Embassy in Switzerland to perform for the South African Celebrations.
- They are invited by International Bank Vaults to perform at their (First Super Car Drive Campaign breakfast) in Durban.
- They perform at Rivonia Trial Celebrations in Rivonia Sandton.
- They perform at Shell oil fleets day Gala dinner
- They perform at the Reserve Bank in Pretoria where Governor Marcus gave a speech.
- They are invited in Zimbabwe to perform at a well organised Spring Strings Picnic.
- Wits University invite them to perform at a ZAWWW Annual on World Wide Web Applications.
- ESP Africa invites them to perform at the International Astronautic Conference running for 3 days in Johannesburg.
- They are invited to a National Productivity Awards Ceremony.
- Head of communication Unit Law Society of the Northern Province invites them to grace their annual general meeting and the President Mr Tony Thobane suggested the SSQ.
- Manu Dibango invites the SSQ to the Launch of his up-coming album in Paris.
- A community school in Phokeng outside Rustenburg invites SSQ for the idea of budding orchestra (very young children) joining SSQ for one number to add some involvement for the children.
- They perform at Felicia Mabuza’s Daughter’s wedding.
- They once more perform for Coca-Cola in Sun City.
- Government invites them to perform at Mathew Goniwe- Gertrude Mxenge Memorial Institute of leadership and governance.
- They perform at a Cruise ship to Cape Town from Namibia for 5 days.
- Chai FM invites SSQ to a fund raiser in Summer Place.
- They are invited to perform in Welkom Theatre.
- MTN invites SSQ to perform at the Blackberry launch in Craighall.
- Brazilian NGO Caravana do Esporte Media Coverage on Cultural and Social aspects of South Africa prior to the World Cup.
- Winter Festival invites them once again to perform in Newcastel Vodacom.
- They perform at an annual Jacaranda National Arts Festival
- South African High Commissioner in Mbabane Swaziland invites them to perform at their gala dinner.
- They are invited to perform at a Global Interface Fundraiser for the Jacob Zuma Education Trust Fund.
- Friends of Classical music invite them to perform at their Cabaret Dinner in Tzaneen.
- They perform at a Kirkwood annual festival.
- One of the companies that were involved in choosing 2010 World Cup performing Artists chooses the SSQ to perform at a Dinner announcement ceremony in Sandton.
- They perform at a Coca-Cola Dome.
- The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in acknowledgement of the great investment Delta puts in the local Arts sector supports their initiative to bring South African Soweto String Quartet. They performed at its Golden Pilsner Brand that has gone premium.
- The SSQ is invited by SAFARI COM a cellular line in Kenya in their annual festival. They spend two weeks performing with various best Kenyan Artists.
- They perform at a launch of a South African National Space Agency in Midrand.
- House on Fire invites them to perform Christmas Carols with a choir in Swaziland.
- SSQ is invited to feature in the Mandela Movie called INVICTUS. They appear with the international stars who are Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.
- Department of Arts and Culture invites SSQ to perform at a Presidential Inauguration in Pretoria.
- Indian premier Cricket League chooses the SSQ to perform at their Gala Dinner in Saxon Hotel.
- SSQ performs with Watershed group at Gold reef City.
- Gauteng legislature invites the SSQ to grace the occasion.
- SSQ performs at a Royal Show together with the imported Black and white horses that matches SSQ zebra stripes.
- They perform at Grahamstown Festival.
- They perform for free at a fundraiser (Metro Evangelical Services) in Hillbrow.
- They perform for free in Grahamstown Rhodes University, HIV AIDS Resistance Campaign evening dance, drama, arts and music. They make thousands of Rands for the campaign.
- SSQ performed at the Further Market Centre to launch a Charity Fund in the Eastern Cape Province. The Premier Dr. Balindlela was a guest speaker at the function called The Project of Hope.
- SSQ perform at Arts Cape Theatre in Cape Town for the Monetary Conference, an organisation based in Washington DC, United States of America.
- SSQ is invited to New York by the Department of Tourism to perform for 5 days.
- Prince Edward and Sophie a (Royal Couple of England, Wessex) specifically requests for the SSQ to perform at a Royal Dinner in aid of youth empowerment projects for Prince’s Trust and for Rotary.
- They perform in a boat for Swedish Match Company celebrating 100 year for BB tobacco
- They perform in New York for SA Celebrations for a week.
- They perform in Singapore for Pennacchini Five Wines.
- The Dome live Performance of Radio Highveld (Christmas Carols).
- They perform at the Elton John Aids Foundation in Cape Town.
- 20th April to 6th May, they are invited by the Embassy of Egypt to for a mini Tour. They performed in Qatar, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Beirut, Lebanon and Algeria.
- SSQ is invited to grace the occasion of Rugby World Cup 10th year.
- SSQ performs in Zambia at an Exclusive Colonial Dinner.
- SSQ performs at a Cherry Festival for 3 consecutive years.
- SSQ travels with Criselda Kananda to P.E to perform for a community based non-profit operation in the spirit of Vukuzenzele, which cares for 250 HIV positive persons in King Williams Town.
- SSQ received special invitation from the Swiss Embassy to perform in Pretoria for high-esteem Swiss Government officials visiting S. Africa.
2004 March & May
- SSQ performed in France (Unesco Cultural Festival), Algiers (10th Anniversary Celebration of S.A’s Democracy), United States of America, Libya (10th Anniversary Celebration of S.A’s Democracy), Mozambique (10th Anniversary Celebration of S.A’s Democracy), Zambia and India (Showcase S.A talent at world Exhibition).
- SSQ was invited to tour internationally. The tours included Switzerland and Spain. The two countries were respectively celebrating S. Africa’s 10th anniversary in democracy.
- BMW S. Africa and SSQ once again revived their unique relationship of supporting each other by exchanging skills. The relationship dated back to 1996 with BMW Zebra Cars donated by BMW SA. Now and again, SSQ perms with BMW.
- Daimler Chrysler S. Africa booked SSQ for two weeks to perform at their production plants launch function. These functions were graced by senior management and board members.
- SSQ performed at an exclusive function in Pretoria for the re-launch of the Blue Train.
- Mainline artists for four nights of the Giant Steps Festival at Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Due to the success of the event and SSQ’s exceptional performance, the festival has now become an annual event.
- Performed to a global audience of over 1 billion at the ICC Cricket World Cup opening ceremony.
- SSQ were selected as the only artists to accompany the Minister of Department of Enterprises to New York to usher in S. Africa’s telecommunication company (Telkom) when the company was listed for the very first time at the New York Stock Exchange.
- Received a special request from the President Office; to perform at the Presidential Sports Awards function.
- SSQ celebrated its 25th Anniversary in the music industry with an outstanding performance featuring guest artists such as Vusi Mahlasela, Pops Mohamed, Umanji, Ballet Theatre Afrikan and other notable friends and fellow musicians that have grown with them over the years.
- Release their fifth album titled “OUR WORLD.”
- Performed to a standing ovation at the Otego Festival of the Arts in New Zealand.
- Performed at various concerts on tour in Zimbabwe.
- Completed recording their fifth album. The album titled OUR WORLD – is planned for release in 2003.
2001 May & June
- SSQ in and out of the recording studio during this period, working on material for their new album.
2001 27th June to 24th August
- SSQ honoured their second invitation tour to the UK by embarking on their most extensive tour schedule to date. The Rhythms of Africa began in Reddish and included performances in Bradford, Greenwich, Canterbury, Cambridge and Chester among others; before participating at the WOMAD Festival in Reading. More performances were held in Harrow and Whitley Bay followed before SSQ worked their way towards the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Encompassing 31 towns and including over 50 performances that was by far the biggest and busiest tour ever undertaken by the SSQ thus far.
2001 27th August.
- Released New album titled FOUR.
2000 July & August
- First Rhythm of Africa Tour during which SSQ played over 30 dates around UK, earning rave reviews along the way.
- S. Africa’s Freedom Day-New York City. As special guests of the S. African Consul General; Sheila Sisulu. SSQ commemorated this special day in a moving ceremony attended by many dignitaries.
- Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Kennedy Centre Washington. SSQ were honoured to be asked by the world-renowned dance group to play their own music for a ballet choreographed by the Dance Theatre and titled South Africa Suite as part of the Kennedy Centre’s African Odyssey programme.
- The Diana, Prince of Wales Tribute Concert at the Althorp Estate England. Televised world-wide, this moving memorial concert saw SSQ and label-mate Vusi Mahlasela performed alongside superstars such as Cliff Richard, Chris de Burgh, Duran Duran. The Lighthouse Family and Jimmy Ruffin. The Royal Festival Hall in London – Three standing ovation.
- The Baxter Theatre Cape Town. SSQ with Vusi Mahlasela and Louis Mhlanga performed five full concerts that saw SSQ and label-mate Vusi Mahlasela performed alongside superstars such as Earl Charles Spencer’s charity Lifeline/Childline. Six sold out shows.
- SSQ released third album, Millennium.
- CD Launched at Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town. SSQ hosted Cape Town launch of their 3rd album titled Millennium and performed at four sold out shows at the Baxter Theatre.
- State Opening Of National Parliament. A great honour for SSQ who performed for President Nelson Mandela during the historic event.
- 3rd Annual FNB S. African Music Awards – Civic Theatre. SSQ performed together with Vusi Mahlasela at the award ceremony and SSQ walked away with an award for Best Instrumental Performance for RENAISSANCE.
- Blue Train Re-launch. Attended by President Nelson Mandela and his personal guests including Quincy Jones, Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow.
- The Nation Trust Two Nations Concert – Johannesburg Stadium. SSQ performed before The Prince of Wales, Prince Harry and President Nelson Mandela at this prestigious event raising much needed funds to support micro enterprises that create real jobs for the unemployed youths of S. Africa, focusing on musically collaborative development projects. A star-studded event; appearing on the bill with SSQ were artists such as: The Spice Girls, Billy Ocean, Trevor Rabin and Jonathan Butler.
- SSQ released their second album, titled RENAISSANCE.
- ZEBRA CROSSING earns three awards at the 1995 FNB S. African Music Awards – Best Pop Album, Best New Group and Best Instrumental Performance.
- SSQ released their debut album – ZEBRA CROSSING. The national election in 1994 turned things around for SSQ. A true honour, SSQ performed at President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in Pretoria. A significant year in SSQ’s career indeed. In 1994 SSQ also supported Whitney Houston on her S. African tour as well as private appearances for Prince Anne and the maestro Lord Yehudi Menuhin.
- SSQ sign their first recording deal with BMG Africa.
SSQ attracts both print and electronic media. When SSQ has interviews, it would be endured that there is sufficient display of branding including interviewing of the sponsor. Brand leverage will receive an enormous coverage. The rand value that will be received from the media mentioned below has not been calculated”. The following are media that SSQ has attracted over the years and consequently, the relationship has grown: