DONEL MANGENA still remembers the moment that he sang for Elizabeth II, the woman otherwise widely known as the Queen of the United Kingdom.
It was 21 April, only three days after the 16-year-old was to see his country of origin, Zimbabwe to celebrate her own 38th birthday while he was thousands of miles away in England.
In front of guests and dignitaries from 53 countries, Donel put up a performance that emphatically announced his arrival on the world stage. Here, it seemed, was a teenage sensation with a love for the big stage and a love for the spotlight only matched by his talent. Months after that momentous occasion at London’s Albert Hall which saw global superstars like Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, Sting and Shaggy all perform, Donel still remembers the occasion vividly.
“It was a really crazy experience. It was a totally overwhelming experience. I remember that when I was performing I couldn’t even think of what I was doing. I was just concentrating on getting my lines right and making sure that there were no missteps,” the budding pop star told Sunday Life from his UK base in an interview.
“It was really massive because it wasn’t just the queen at the ceremony. There were a lot of world leaders too and I remember that there were Zimbabwean leaders and I also wanted to impress them.”
Despite his stellar performance on The Voice, where he came second to the disappointment of many followers of the show, Donel never expected to be performing in front of the Queen and the world’s most famous and powerful only a few days later.
That performance on The Voice however, was watched by more than a few pop fans or Zimbabweans hoping to see one of their own come tops in one of the globe’s most watched reality shows. Donel’s voice had been heard in the living rooms of members of the royal household.
“When I was performing on The Voice, it turned out that Prince Harry had actually been watching. He had heard me singing on the show and thought that I would be a good fit for the ceremony.
“So he wrote me a letter basically asking me to come and perform at his grandmother’s birthday. Of course, his grandmother is the queen so it was really mind-blowing,” he said.
His ties to the prince and the affection that he has for him, has come as a surprise to the gifted teenage singer.
“After my performance I met Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex which was absolutely amazing. The craziest thing for me to process was that they knew my name. That blew me away,” he said.
After his meteoric rise, some will be curious about how a 16-year-old managed to climb the music ladder so quickly. Like many gifted singers, Donel’s talents were horned in church where he sang with his father, Nkosana Mangena.
However, before that his talent had been discovered by his mother in accidental circumstances.
“I actually started singing at church with my dad. I started there because I believe that everything starts with God’s grace. So that was where my career began. In all honesty, before I even started singing at church my career began in the shower. One day I was bathing and singing when my mother heard me. She immediately told my dad that I had a beautiful voice that needed to be heard. From then on everything just kicked off and I started working with my father,” he said.
At 16, many would kill to achieve what the fresh faced singer has so far in his young career. However, Donel insists that success did not come as easy as some might think.
“People, of course, think that I’m young because they saw me in The Voice. What I would like to say is that this has been years in the making. I didn’t get here by accident. Before The Voice I was building my career and talent in the background.
Despite the recognition that he has received from the British royal family, Donel still remembers his roots. The singer, who was once enrolled Masiyephambili Primary School in Bulawayo before he left for the UK, won fans over at home with his mastery of isiNdebele, a language some lose when they migrate to the United Kingdom at a tender age.
“The last time I was in Zimbabwe was 10 years ago but you couldn’t tell from the way I speak Ndebele. I also speak Shona but it’s not as polished. I’ve made sure that I stay in touch with my roots and that’s why you hear a lot of Ndebele in lyrics. When I’m at home my mum and dad make sure that we speak some Ndebele.
“I’ve got a cousin who has never been to Zimbabwe but speaks perfect Ndebele. He’s never been to the country because he grew up here so you’d think he’d struggle but that’s not the case. I think it’s all down to the family,” he said.
After the single, Bang like a Drum, his first as a solo artiste, Donel is now looking ahead to the rest of what is already a promising career. Despite his age, he is determined to be more than a teenage star and wants his music to reflect that.
“You have to listen to it and then judge what genre for yourself. It’s not exactly pop but a mesh of different sounds. This is because I want to cater for everyone and not get restricted to one genre,” he said.