OnlineRock Blog

13 February 2012

When Beloved Musicians Die Too Soon... Some May Rise?

By Tomi Mendel

In what must be one of the strangest music-related stories in a long time, a South-African man is claiming to be Khulekani Mgqumeni "Kwakhe" Khumalo, a popular singer who died in late 2009. Bizarrely, he says he did not die at all, but is actually a victim of witchcraft, held captive by zombies for two years. This mystery man boasts some pretty legitimate corroborating sources, including Khumalo’s daughter, two common-law wives and his grandmother, who claims, “It really is him.” Thousands of people have flocked to Khumalo’s hometown in response, with local police even needing to resort to riot control tactics to keep the crowds contained. Authorities are continuing to investigate the situation, although they say the man’s fingerprints do not match Khumalo’s and he lacks the late singer’s identifying facial scars.

Khulekani Mgqumeni "Kwakhe" Khumalo while he was still alive.

Khumalo, also known as “Mgqumeni,” was a well-loved performer of Maskandi, a traditional folk music of the region. He was thought to have died back in 2009 at the young age of twenty-seven, after allegedly consuming a poisonous concoction given to him by a traditional healer. Since this odd resurrection controversy began, his music, unsurprisingly, has been selling extremely well, along with a pirated DVD copy of footage from his funeral. While the particulars of this episode might seem quite out of the ordinary to our Western ears, it’s important to take a look in the mirror before we judge too harshly. 

Incredible crowd scenes from South Africa.

Musicians seem to have a peculiar habit of rising from the dead all over the world, and in America as often as anywhere else. Post-mortem “sightings” of Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, are an especially prevalent cultural phenomenon, providing material for movies like Bubba Ho-Tep and Mystery Train. In the age of the Internet, there are countless websites claiming to have proof that Mr. Presley is still alive. One theory got some major news coverage ten years ago, when a Kansas City doctor, Donald Hinton, claimed to be treating Elvis, now living under the name of Jesse (taken from Presley’s still-born twin brother) after having faked his own death. Supporters of this theory claim that Jesse has taken DNA tests which connect him to both sides of Presley’s family, proving that he is in fact the real Elvis. 

A 2002 news report about Dr. Hinton and Jesse.

Another similar conspiracy concerns rapper Tupac Shakur, with TMZ getting in on the fun as recently as 2009, when they released a series of photographs showing a man bearing a strong resemblance to the late hip-hop icon. Just last year, a group of comedic hackers added fuel to the fire when they broke into the PBS website and posted a story about Tupac being found alive and well, living in New Zealand. The legitimacy of the news source led to quite the uproar- at least for a few hours. Michael Jackson, another worldwide icon, is the latest superstar whose sudden and mysterious death have contributed to the belief that he might still be alive. Even before the Internet, in the mid 1960s, an equal-but-opposite conspiracy arose, which claimed that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash and been replaced by a lookalike. There are still many fans today who could present an incredibly thorough, detailed case for this belief based on photographic comparison and other clues. 

“Paul Is Dead” conspirators believe McCartney’s appearance suspiciously changed considerably over time.

Of course, we would all like to believe that our favorite musicians are still with us. Each one of these instances is a testament to the powerful ability of music to touch listeners on a personal level. Lyrics sung by someone you have never met can often feel like they were written just for you. We develop a relationship with our favorite artists, our lives rising and falling with each new song or album. We read the books they reference, style our hair like them and sometimes even try to adopt their worldview. In short, we treat them like they’re our friends. Especially when such an icon is taken from the world at a young age, as in all of these examples, that personal connection is an extremely difficult one to let go. It means we can never meet them, never laugh with them and learn from them. For anyone who saw their words and songs as a guiding light, the glow is extinguished suddenly and without explanation. 

Elvis Lives Lane in Ottawa, Canada, home of the Elvis Sightings Society.

It is no coincidence that most of these cases revolve around supposed clues left behind for fans, like the word “ALIVE” allegedly inscribed on Michael Jackson’s lower lip on the cover of Michael, or the muffled lyrics “I buried Paul” many claim to hear during the fadeout of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” As fans, we want to believe that these artists left behind clues that only the truly dedicated would be able to uncover. Within these intensely personal experiences, we see the best and worst of music fandom. Ultimately, whether this South African man’s seemingly false identity claims prove to be just that, I think we can all understand the desire for our most beloved musical icons to rise from the grave. If by some improbable miracle, his story turns out to be true, at least it will bring solace to thousands of fans who were robbed of Khumalo’s talents far too soon.

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