IY choir prepares for debut performance

Amava Nkuku, left, and Nosipho Ntonjane sing from the heart.

The gusting wind is swirling the dust from a nearby construction site as heavy-legged people make their way home from work.

Small children are running this way and that, their excitement palpable in anticipation of the upcoming December school holidays. Several dogs are sniffing curiously at heaps of rubble in the hope they might be hiding scraps of food.

There is nothing untoward about the scene. Just another week day in Imizamo Yethu where weary labourers pick up a few braaied chicken feet or gizzards before settling down to a hard-earned night’s rest.

What is slightly unusual is the sound riding on the wind. It’s not the frenetic bass of a car stereo or taxi sound system, but high, beautiful notes stemming from the converted green container, the “Green Hall”, on top of the hill. Every so often the singing stops, and what sounds like a toy keyboard delivers its own pitch. The music is familiar, although it’s difficult to place at first.

Inside the container a group of people, some of school-going age, others bearing the expressions of salaried workers, are seated in a circle around a heavy-set man whose deep voice commands attention. He is the owner of the Melodica, into which he blows to power the notes. The group is warming up.

This collection of people represents Imizamo Yethu’s first ever choir outside of church circles. They have found one another thanks to the efforts of Hout Bay resident Tanya Blacher, a British national who settled on these shores four years ago and immediately fell in love with the African choral tradi-

“There have been a few choirs in Imizamo Yethu over the years, but they never managed to get off the ground. The choral tradition is so strong within the African community and there is so much talent in IY, so I thought it would be worth a go to see if we could get one up and running,” Ms Blacher explained.

“Using our connections, we organised auditions at the Iziko Lobomi centre in August, and were thrilled when 60 people arrived. From there, we selected 25 members – 16 women and nine men – who have now formed the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir.”

Twice a week, the group meets to practise either at the Green Hall, Yellow Hall or Iziko Lobomi under the watchful eye of their celebrated choir master, Zamile Gantana, an actor and singer known for his work in the films U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, Noye’s Fludde – Unogumbe and Breathe Umphefumlo.

“I had a chance to meet Mark Dornford-May, the English theatre and film director who runs the Isango Ensemble, which draws its performers from South African townships. I asked whether he could help me with a camera so I could film the choir. He did more than that and sent Zamile to be a judge at our auditions.

“Unfortunately the CPUT choir master who was going to assist us had another commitments, so Zamile stepped in. Where have been extremely lucky to get him at a time when he wasn’t working on other projects.”

The choir is currently preparing for its first live public performance, to be held at Kronendal Primary School from 7pm on Thursday December 7.

Mr Gantana is the archetype of the seasoned choir master. A hard taskmaster at times, he is also given to joking with his charges to keep the mood light and positive.

The music content is 80% African and 20% Western, with John Legend’s All of Me included in their repertoire.

Mr Gantana said there was no doubt the choir members had the “right choral background” having grown up in the African singing tradition.

“On the first day we start-
ed rehearsing, they all came together. I trust and know they have good talent, but there is always room to learn,” he said.

“They’ve improved quite a bit, but I need to instill confidence in them. The truth is with any choir, when it kicks off you don’t know where it’s going to go, but it will go somewhere and that’s very exciting.”

He first wanted to refine the technique of the 25 members before looking to grow the choir. “It’s a small choir, but I am going all out to get them tight,” he said.

Although it’s still very early days, Ms Blacher sees no reason why the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir can’t “make it”.

“Look at what the Soweto Gospel Choir has done. Many of our members work at Pick * Pay or as petrol station attendants by day, but I see no reason why they can’t make an additional income by performing at weddings or at the V&A Waterfront. My sister was over from Wimbledon in the UK recently, and she mentioned that they would be a hit in England, since there are a lot of South Africans living over there. The English will love it as

Tickets for the choir’s first performance can be pre-booked on Quicket for R50 each. Entrance on the night is R60. Doors open at 6pm and drinks and snacks are available.