From an early age, Kimmy Skota remembers listening to classical music every Sunday afternoon and marvelling at the calming effect it had on her. Little did she realise at the time that one day she would wow the world with her own gift.
Kimmy was born in Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape, the seventh of nine children, and remembers how her dad used to love to play the Sunday afternoon radio show on what was then called Radio Xhosa. “I would listen to stars like Pavarotti, and while I loved it, it never occurred to me that it was something I could do. I always thought it was only for special people,” she smiles. Having matriculated, Kimmy relocated to Cape Town to study, where a cousin told her about auditions being held at Cape Town Opera and suggested she give it a go.
“The auditions were for the Choral Training Programme, to introduce classical music to youth from the townships. I remember feeling very self-conscious; I didn’t think I could sing well at all, never mind being able to sing opera!” In the end, Kimmy was persuaded to try. “Hundreds auditioned,” she remembers. “Some people even had piano accompaniments. I felt very intimidated, my voice was raw, and up until then, I had only sung in church! When it was my turn, I got up. I had only sung one line when they said, ‘Thank you! Next!’ I was so disappointed, sad and embarrassed! I thought I had made such a fool of myself.” Two weeks later, Kimmy was called to audition again and got the job.
A dream come true, this opened many doors for the soon-to-be star. “I loved it, especially the combination of singing and acting, which is what I love most. And being trained to sing opera and be paid to do so at the end of the month was such a privilege!” There was more to come. After a year, a professor, Angelo Gobatto, offered Kimmy a scholarship to study under his direction, as well as another professor, Virginia Davids, at UCT Music School. Kimmy earned a diploma in opera, BMus honours in music, and a postgraduate diploma in performance.
Kimmy’s big break came when world-famous violinist and conductor, André Rieu heard her sing while on tour in South Africa. He was so taken with her beautiful soprano voice that he asked her to join him and his Johan Strauss Orchestra, to which she agreed. André would introduce her as his “Black Diamond”, and she went on to wow audiences all over the world with her renditions of “Ave Maria”, “Casta Diva” and “My African Dream”, among many others. While being on tour could be demanding, Kimmy reminisces fondly about those days, and about being able to slip into her new routine easily.
“I was suddenly exposed to arenas all over the world, singing to thousands at a time, all as part of a large group of performers. We had to learn to live like a family because we were always together on tour. Fortunately, this was easy for me, because I already come from a large family. The challenge for me was to sing the same song 199 times over, each time making it sound fresh and new as each audience was different. It is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time; you never know what to expect.
“Working with André is an experience. He is a visionary and an artist, and he can create magic out of anything. He is also a perfectionist and, like any good father, manages to keep the team together – they are able to function as a family.”
While an immense privilege, this lifestyle can become tiring. “I was doing what I loved the most, but I was living out of a suitcase,” Kimmy says. “I still tour, but not like before. I have learnt how to pace myself. God gives me strength and keeps me grounded.” A year ago, she moved to White River, where she has settled, hopefully for good. “I fell in love with the place when I came to visit my sister; the beautiful geographical structure, the calmness of the area. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Kimmy, managed by Tshesa Entertainments, is now doing her own shows and believes strongly in giving it her all. One of her favourite performances was held at The Barnyard Theatre at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre at the end of last year. “People showered me with love; they were so supportive. It was like coming home.” It’s not always easy though, and opportunities in South Africa are often scarce. “It is important not to compare yourself with others; each one of us is unique,” Kimmy advises. “And don’t give up. Continue to strive and shape your own dream, fulfil your own destiny.”
Singing is like a sport, she continues; lots of practise and exercise to keep the muscles active! “The first and last thing I do every day is to speak to Jesus. I find to the gym helps to keep me energised and ready to face the day, and keeps me fit, which is important for my singing. I love reading and brainstorming, and very importantly, I make sure that I perfect whatever I need to when it comes to my career. Before, people only saw 2% of me; now I want them to get the full package.” Kimmy intends touring again, God willing, and honing her beautiful voice to absolute perfection.
“I’ll never forget,” she smiles, “a little boy once asked me if being an opera singer meant that when someone stabs you, you sing instead of bleed. That
is the truth!”