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Invictus: Nelson Mandela's favourite poem set to music by opera star Pumeza Matshikiza


A poem which famously inspired Nelson Mandela during his decades of incarceration has been set to music by a rising opera star.

Invictus - which the former South African president read to fellow prisoners in Robben Island jail - has been recorded by Royal Opera House-trained soprano Pumeza Matshikiza.

The words have been put to music by Paul Mealor, who composed music for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

South African-born Matshikiza, who was brought up in the townships of Cape Town, has recorded the track for her debut album which will be released later this year after she signed a classical record deal.

The 34-year-old singer, who has attracted acclaim for her performances, was brought up in poverty in a shack with bare floors but her talent won her a place at the South African College of Music, and she went on to land a scholarship for the Royal College of Music in London.

She was later in the young artist programme at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden where she participated in masterclasses with international stars such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Matshikiza is to dedicate her recording of Invictus to Mandela when the album comes out later this year.

The words were first published in 1875 and written by British poet William Ernest Henley, although the title was added by an editor for a later publication.

The lines "Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years, finds and shall find me unafraid" were said to be a motivating force for Mandela in prison.

Invictus was also the title of a 2009 film starring Matt Damon about the South African rugby team in which the squad is spurred on to victory by the poem, after being introduced to it by Mandela.

Matshikiza, who has signed with UK-based Decca Classics, said: "My debut album tells the story of my incredible journey from Africa to Europe and I feel privileged to be able to chart it through the very personal repertoire choices on this album - songs and arias that prove music unites people across the world and brings cultures together."

As well as arias by Mozart and Puccini, she has also recorded traditional songs in her Xhosa language along with a track by Paul Simon and Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight).