Famous for playing ‘Simba’ in the West End musical The Lion King, Brian Temba is about to launch his very first album. Interview by GEORGE LUKE
As a youngster growing up in South Africa, Brian was always singing – at home, in the bathroom, or anywhere else he fancied. But it wasn’t until he became a Christian in 1995 that the thought of singing professionally came to him.
“We had a party in church and I was messing around,” he recalls. “One of the church leaders heard me and said I should be leading worship. It started there, really.
“After a while, what you’re meant to do in life becomes pretty obvious. I’d been doing Business Management and it just wasn’t working for me. I loved music very much, so I decided that was the way for me to go.
“My parents were against it, but I was so confident, so convicted and driven. I started singing professionally in 1998 with a contemporary gospel artist. Then I joined gospel choir Joyous Celebration, which is quite big in South Africa. I did that until 1999.”
Brian auditioned for The Lion King in South Africa in 2000, and joined the company in Los Angeles as an ensemble member. “I got to hone my skills and grow as a musician, as a singer and as a Christian.”
Two years later, the company moved from LA to Chicago and Brian auditioned for the lead role. He didn’t get it because his immigration status didn’t allow him to play the lead – although strangely, he could understudy it.
But the Disney bigwigs liked him enough to want to bring him to Britain where the laws are more lenient towards international actors. “I’ve met some wonderful people here – both in church and outside,” he says.
Although Brian’s faith is very important to him, he says he can’t really remember how he became a Christian. “I was a teenager in high school, happily doing my own thing.
“Then one of my friends asked me to come to church with him. I never imagined him going to church.
“My family background is Christian but all the young people in my family were quite rebellious; we always ran away when we were meant to be in church or Sunday school. But I love my mum very much and would do anything for her, and so I went thinking I’d just get it out of the way and go back to my usual ways afterwards.
“To my surprise, I went there and had a feeling I’d never had before. I can’t explain it – even now – but I knew what I had to do. And so I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.”
And how has Brian’s faith helped him cope with the pressures of being in show business?
“I’m a realist, so I’ll be honest,” says Brian. “There are a lot of challenges in the industry. A lot of temptation does come my way: women, drugs, all of that … and when you’ve never experienced that before, it becomes very hard to cope with.
“The devil’s going to try everything he can to bring you down. But if you know who you are in Christ, you know who fights your battles.”
Brian’s run in The Lion King ended in April, at about the same time as his debut album came out. “I’ve been working on it for over two years,” he says.
“Most of the songwriters I worked with are Christians, but I wouldn’t call it a gospel album. I wouldn’t call it a secular one, either. It’s about things I’ve experienced in my life – things such as losing my brother.
“I write songs about what’s happening in the world around us; about people not looking out for each other … seeing your neighbour but not caring for them.
“I was never an actor before I did the Lion King, but through it I got the opportunity to be in a film called Hip Hop Opera. It was very low budget, but it was a great experience.
“I’d like to do more in that direction as well as music. More films, more telly and more theatre.”
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