One Friday afternoon, before choir practice started, choristers Zama Jantjie and Thuli Sibeko spent a bit of time remembering their personal journeys. Here’s how it went down:
In October 2013 my friend Sipho invited me to come and listen to the Mzansi Youth Choir performing at an event. Sipho was a member of the choir and he knew I enjoyed music. Within five minutes of hearing the choir I was in love (with the choir, that is, not with Sipho – haha!) I knew that this was for me. I managed to get an audition, and was thrilled when I was accepted into the choir.
At that time I was really shy. I didn’t enjoy having people around me. That is one thing I can say that has definitely changed about me. Choir has done wonders for my self-confidence. But when I arrived at my first rehearsal it was very difficult. I walked in with my heart in my throat. There was this group of people who knew each other really well, singing in delightful unison. I felt like maybe I was late for my first practice. What kind of impression would that give? I was relieved to learn that practice hadn’t even started yet; the choristers were just greeting each other. That’s what we do to say hello – we sing!
Singing our greetings is one of the traditions of the Mzansi Youth Choir that I love, especially when we go on tour overseas. I have been lucky enough to visit Canada, Denmark and London with the choir. My first overseas trip was Canada. It was three months after I joined the choir back in 2011. Can you imagine that? A Grade 9 learner from Pimville travelling to Canada?! It was amazing.
Most recently, when we were in London to perform at the Royal Albert Hall, we greeted people in our usual way all over the city – by singing. One day we sang in a tube station and people stopped in their tracks to listen to us. They even asked for an encore!
We also greeted people passing by the gates of Buckingham Palace one afternoon. We were just so happy to be there that we started singing, because that is how we express our happiness. I remember we sang our a cappella version of Justin Bieber’s Baby at the palace gates because we heard that he was performing in South Africa on that day. It was wonderful to see the crowd gathering and cheering for us in a foreign city. Music really is the language that communicates across cultures and languages. It is such an honour for me to represent the youth of South Africa, both at home and abroad.
My life has changed 180 degrees for the better since I joined the choir. It’s like I’ve become a celebrity in my neighbourhood. These days you might even see me being followed by a film crew around my house. Thuli was with me the other day when a crew was there filming a documentary for RMB about our trip to London to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. We crossed the veld that’s opposite my house and by the time we got to the other end there were so many people following us. They were jumping in front of the cameras and enjoying the moment with us.
I feel like I am a source of pride for my community. Many people here have never even left Soweto. I am known here as “that girl” – in a good way. I feel I am an inspiration for many people.
My family are very supportive. My mum waits up for me whenever I have rehearsal and she comes to support our performances whenever she can. This is a feeling you can’t describe easily, especially when I see the bad direction that so many township kids’ lives take. Choir keeps us from getting involved in lots of other things – bad things that could end up destroying our futures. You can say in a way it is my saviour.
It is a wonderful thing, this choir. When I joined in Grade 9 I was worried my schoolwork would suffer because I would focus too much on choir. In fact, I found that I had a lot more focus for my schoolwork, even though I had less time available.
Choir gave me discipline and taught me how to set goals and make plans in order to achieve success. Without this focus I am not sure I would have qualified to get into Vaal University of Technology to study biotechnology. And yet here I am in third year! It’s like a dream come true. The sky is definitely the limit… or maybe not even the sky – beyond the sky!!
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