I may be walking in the streets
of a town called London
But the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet
and my heartbeat
say Africa

If you pass RMB’s head office in Sandton you’ll see these words on a huge building wrap on the corner of Fredman Drive and Rivonia Road. They’re from Vusi Mahlasela’s 2010 hit single Say Africa, and they have particular significance to a young group of singers who make up the Mzansi Youth Choir.

The choir performed Say Africa at RMB’s recent Starlight Classics event in Stellenbosch (pictured above).

“The choir is always a huge hit at Starlight Classics,” says RMB’s Carolynne Waterhouse. “We introduced them to Vusi Mahlasela on the Starlight stage last year, where Vusi sang Say Africa with them. They were so excited to sing with him that they asked if they could produce a version of Say Africa themselves, which has been very well received.”

But it doesn’t end there. The Mzansi Youth Choir will be heading to London in April to perform at the International Youth Choir Festival in the Royal Albert Hall.

“It was just perfect synchronicity,” says Carolynne. “The choir going to London to perform the song they first did at Starlight Classics, appearing on our building wrap, which carries the lyrics to the same song, with a reference to London. It was meant to be.”

The choir will perform in London from 12 to 18 April 2017, with the main event, the choir festival, taking place on 15 April. Music director Ralf Schmitt says the experience will be incredible for everyone who’s going.

“Some of our choristers come from very difficult circumstances,” he says. “Quite a few are orphans, or come from child-headed households. For these young people to get an opportunity to visit London and sing at the Royal Albert Hall is just phenomenal.”

Ralf says the Mzansi Youth Choir team is driven by the impact the choir has on the lives of the choristers.

“It’s magnificent and exhilarating working with these young people and fine tuning their talent, sculpting them into world-class performers,” he says. “When they perform on stage – for 10 or 100 or 1000 people – their chests go up. They know that what they have produced is excellent. They are proud of what they do, as we all are.”

The building wrap was put up while the choir was performing at Starlight Classics in early March 2017. When they arrived back in Jozi from Cape Town, they did an impromptu performance of Say Africa at the foot of the billboard.

RMB’s support for the arts goes back many, many years. The fact that Starlight Classics is now in its 19th year goes to show how successful an arts sponsorship can be.

“The first Starlight Classics was intended as a once-off,” says Carolynne. “But our clients wanted more, and now we’re busy with our 19th iteration and it’s just as popular as ever.

Ralf Schmitt leads the Mzansi Youth Choir in rehearsal ahead of the choir’s upcoming performance at the Royal Albert Hall

“There is a lot that business and the arts can do for each other. The arts appeal to our emotions, and if you can build your brand on emotion… well, there’s no better way to do it! And for the artists themselves, they often have no concept of business, of who their competitors are, of what to charge and how to charge. So often people take advantage of creative people by asking them to contribute to something at no charge. But they have to eat! Even the artists themselves tend to undervalue what they do. There is still huge potential for business to help arts communities realise the true monetary value of their work.”

At the moment, the Mzansi Youth Choir relies solely on donations and sponsorships to fund its activities.

“Our ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient, though,” says Ralf. “We are extremely grateful to companies such as RMB that sponsor and help us. But we dream of one day not having to go to sponsors.

“I believe that what we are producing is good enough to bring enough income in for us to be self-sustaining. If we’re able to arrange a run of shows for a month or two in the UK or the States, or somewhere in Europe, that would help us to fulfil this goal.”