Mississippi College

MC Singers Welcome South African Exchange Student

January 4, 2013

South Africa’s Thulani Mnisi traveled thousands of miles to the United States become one of the newest members of the Mississippi College Singers.

The 25-year-old from Johannesburg is a freshman studying voice on the Clinton campus and polishing his already strong English language skills.

After a bit of culture shock and homesickness when he arrived in Mississippi for the first time in September, “I’m grateful I’m here,” Thulani said. “The experience is very unique. This is the first time to be at a Christian university.”

After earning his MC music degree in four years, the talented tenor wants to become an opera singer.

Mnisi grew up singing in churches in South Africa at the urging of his mother, Nonhlanhla, a gifted singer whose English name is Miracle. In what seems to be a miracle, he’s the direct result of the MC Singers touring South Africa in May 2011 for a series of four concerts.

At one of the concerts at a church outside Soweto, MC Singers Director Jamie Meaders heard the young man start to sing a difficult aria by Mozart. Rather than seeing the South African stumble on any of the notes, Meaders marveled at how well Thulani did on stage with so little formal training at the joint concert with the Mississippi College students.

“He sang like an angel,” says Music Department secretary Dottie Serio, who made the South African journey with the MC Singers.

The magnificent performance truly impressed Meaders, the chairman of the MC Music Department, so he went to work to see that Mnisi could become a USA exchange student and take voice classes at Mississippi College. He was singing with an opera company in Cape Town before the university’s music family extended him an invitation to come to Clinton in 2012.

It’s not just a one-time arrangement to bring Thulani to MC and stop there. Meaders wants to recruit more South African exchange students to America’s second oldest Baptist-affiliated college for decades to come. Thulani is making school history as the first South African exchange student in the music department. Near the end of the student’s four years as an undergraduate, Meaders will lead the search for his successor.

The award-winning MC Singers will do their part so the Christian university’s relationship with South Africa blossoms. Meaders plans to book more concerts for the 55-member group in South Africa in 2014 following performances at either New York’s Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.

Thulani, who enjoys listening to classic opera tapes by Italy’s superstar Luciano Pavarotti, can’t get enough of his favorite music. But the tenor is learning to appreciate all forms of music in the United States – whether it’s jazz, blues, or country.

A former member of the Soweto Young Voices, a community choir in South Africa, Thulani also likes making new friends in Mississippi.

“He’s been my friend since I met him in South Africa and we stayed in touch over Facebook,” says MC Singer Kristopher Davis, a senior from Jackson. “He will teach me something in Zulu. We talk a lot about cultural differences here and there.”

Thulani, who visited Italy and England before he arrived in the United States for the first time last fall, looks forward to returning to South Africa every summer.

Over the Christmas holidays, he stayed at Serio’s home in Clinton because the campus residence halls were closed.

“He’s my African son,” Serio says with a smile. She’s quite familiar with South Africa and its culture. Serio was raised until age 17 in Zimbabwe where her parents were missionaries. 

Eventually, Thulani believes he will say goodbye to Mississippi and return for good to the land of his family and his hero, former President Nelson Mandela. “He’s somebody who fought so hard for the liberation of black people.”

Meaders gives the South African student high marks for what he’s accomplished inside and outside Mississippi College classrooms, his first four months spent in the United States. “He’s making great progress. He’s acclimated quite well.”

Photo: MC Music Department Chairman Jamie Meaders and MC Singer Thulani Mnisi of South Africa

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