Renowned for her signature blonde hair and provocative stage show, Lebo Mathosa was the most successful South African R&B singer of her generation. Tragically, an auto accident claimed her life at the apex of her career. Born in Dayeton, South Africa, in 1977, as a child Mathosa sang in her church choir but dreamed of pop music fame. At 14, she went to live with South African superstar Brenda Fassie, who served as a mentor throughout the teen's early career. In 1994 Mathosa teamed with aspiring rappers Junior Sokhela, Thembi Seete, and Theo Nhlengethwa to form Boom Shaka, whose signature kwaito sound blending hip-hop, house, and traditional music made them one of the most popular acts of the immediate post-apartheid era. Mathosa was not only Boom Shaka's musical focal point but also its shrewdest businessperson, and in the wake of their smash 1996 debut LP, It's About Time, she successfully wrested copyright control of their publishing interests, a precedent countless South African musicians would follow in the years to come. Boom Shaka reached their commercial peak with 1998's "Nkosi Sikelela," a controversial rendition of the South African national anthem. Mathosa left the lineup soon after, and with the 2000 release of her solo debut, Dream, she earned three South African Music Awards: best album, best dance single, and best female vocalist. Frequently cited as one of her homeland's sexiest women, Mathosa toured the world, appearing at the Kora Awards, the North Sea Jazz Festival, and Nelson Mandela's 85th birthday celebration, and also explored acting via performances on the hit television series Generations and Muvhango. Her 2004 sophomore album, Drama Queen, launched her to new commercial and creative heights, abandoning the kwaito sensibilities of her previous music in favor of soul and funk. Following the 2004 death of friend and guru Fassie, Mathosa was anointed South Africa's reigning superstar diva: "You can't deny death, you can't fear it," she told the Mail & Guardian six months after Fassie's death. "I'm sure God has a better place for us, if you're a believer." Mathosa's third LP, 2005's Lioness, earned the singer a nomination for Best African Act at Britain's annual Mobo Awards; her international profile seemed destined for continued growth, but on the morning of October 23, 2006, the driver of Mathosa's Toyota 4x4 crashed into a tree outside of Johannesburg, flinging the 29-year-old singer from the vehicle. She died instantly. ~ Jason Ankeny
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