Caiphus Semenya – Lifetime Achievement Award for Music

Caiphus Semenya the 2015 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Music.
Caiphus Semenya the 2015 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Music.

The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) has named Caiphus Semenya the 2015 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Music. This category is sponsored by SAMRO (Southern African Music Rights Organisation).

Caiphus Katse Semenya was born on the 19th of August 1939 in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township. Semenya is one of South Africa’s prolific musical directors and composers. He also belongs to the collection of iconic South African musicians to have lived in exile – a group which included the likes of his wife Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, and Abdullah Ibrahim. These artists used their craft as an activism tool flying the anti-apartheid flag so effectively abroad. Alongside Jonas and Hugh, Caiphus was a member of the Union of South Africa, a band considered to be one of the best South African musical exports of all time.

During his early teens Semenya lived with his grandmother in Benoni where he was exposed to the sounds of musical works by Woody Woodpeckers and the Inkpots – who were on top of the music entertainment world at the time. Along with three of his friends Caiphus, affectionately known as “Caution”, started a band called the Katzenjammer Kids which became one of South Africa’s top teenage groups. He was invited by Gibson Kente, the father of ‘Township Musical’, to join his production Manana the Jazz Prophet, where he met Theo Bophela who encouraged his song writing talents.

Semenya left for New York in 1964 with the musical, Sponono and remained there when the rest of the cast returned to South Africa. He stayed in Miriam Makeba’s home and continued to compose music. While in New York he continue to receive formal training in music writing.

Later he and his wife Letta, left New York for Los Angeles where his writing talents resulted in him working with some of the top music producers of the time.

Songstress Sibongile Khumalo and Sisanda Henna announced this award.

Presented by the Arts & Culture Trust and hosted by Sun International, the ACT Awards were supported by long-time partners SAMRO, DALRO, Media24 Books, Nedbank Arts Affinity, Distell Foundation, Creative Feel Magazine and Business and Arts South Africa. JTI came on board this year as sponsor of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Dance.

Other Lifetime Achievement Award Winners include: Omar Badsha for Visual Art, Thembi Mtshali-Jones for Theatre, Don Mattera for Literature, Johnny Mekoa for Arts Advocacy and Alfred Hinkel for Dance.

Each Lifetime Achievement Award winner receives R30 000 as a cash prize.

For more information about the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) please visit


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