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Muted Zolani Youth Choir continue to inspire

Written by Mickey Mentz

When their angelic voices were muzzled due to Covid-19 restrictions the Zolani Youth Choir made it their mission to remain an inspirational force in their community.

They achieved this by playing their part in ensuring that the less fortunate people of their township received at least one a hot meal a day.

In partnership with the Zandvliet Wine Estate, the youth choir members served thousands of meals to residents who were trapped at home during those terrifying first four months of lockdown.

They did not have to do this. They could have avoided the risk of exposure all together, but for these bright youngsters it was more a case of living up to the ethos of their choir that will next year celebrate a decade of bringing joyful song to the world.

“When it became clear that we could not sing, we thought of ways that we could still be of service to the people,” Zolani Youth Choir leader Odwa Mvunge explained.

Zolani Youth Choir leader Odwa Mvunge

Odwa said that his choir members did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves and although they struggled to hide the disappointment after their dreams were shattered – the choir was due to perform at the 2020 World Youth Choir Games in Belgium – they knew that their time to shine on stage would one day present itself again.

We had a rare opportunity to help others while also doing what we love, and that is very powerful.

Knowing that the joy derived from serving those in need would never match the sheer exhilaration of a live performance, Odwa had to start exploring other avenues in which the youth of Zolani could ply their trade.

“The choir was started because there is no arts centre in Zolani and to date this has not changed.

“Being part of this choir has expanded the horizons for many children who would have never dreamed of going overseas. Now they are sitting at home and most of them are frustrated as this [the choir] is the only space where they can express themselves artistically.”

Every week they prove the theory that singing in a choir is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking and more fun than working out.

The new struggle

While five-piece bands these days worry about crowds that may exceed the 50-person limit that was put in place by government – social gatherings are technically taboo – a choir with 45 members struggles to have a legal rehearsal, let alone a performance.

For this reason Odwa has been forced to rethink his game plan. He needs no reminder that there has been a shift from live performances in concert halls to open air events and live streaming.  He is also fully aware that the survival of the Zolani Youth Choir will depend on its ability to adapt in these times.

For a start, he would like to find more suitable rehearsal space for his choir. He needs that venue to be spacious and of such a nature that they could, for instance, record the various parts in the choir separately.

“The process is going to be very tough because we don’t have the funds,” Odwa said adding that he is currently in talks with the choir’s investors to see if funds that were allocated for the World Choir Games, could not be used to secure the choir’s future.

He said that their sponsors in the Netherlands have in principal agreed to support this new direction, but even with their blessing they will need to up their income quite significantly to achieve their new goals.

To remain relevant in modern terms, the choir needs advanced audiovisual equipment along with resources to improve their current infrastructure.

They have now set themselves the goal of championing the digital realm and if their track record over the last eight years is anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before they find their online sweet spot.

Fortunately there is no shortage of talented youngsters in Zolani who, under the correct mentorship, are destined to rise above their circumstances.

Many of the these amazing voices who applied to be part of the choir had to do it via WhatsApp voice note this year, but still, the mere fact that there is still so much interest is very heartwarming for the man who started it all.

The choir leader noted that the vision of Zolani Youth Choir is not refined and that the teacher in him knows that he would at a later like to include instrumentation and more music theory as part of their overall offering to the community.

“Before we can do that we must have more stability, but I see reason why we cannot investigate options that can create more opportunities for people through music.”

Odwa explained that he once had a dream of becoming a professional musician but that he did not make the right decisions as a youngster.

While it was too late for him, the creative arts teacher knows that he can now give musical education to those less fortunate so that they can follow the path that will lead to their dreams.

A caring choir

While raising funds for their dreams has now become a priority, the Zolani Youth Choir recently also played their part in ensuring that the Vulindlela crèche was able to keep its lights on.

Through some of the very few live performances they were able to do in 2020, the choir raised the funds needed to settle the crèche’s municipal bills.

“We had a rare opportunity to help others while also doing what we love, and that is very powerful.”

Through this noble gesture Odwa confirmed that the hearts of his choir members are at the right place and that they would continue to be a bastion of hope in Zolani – regardless of the level of lockdown we find ourselves in.

To get in touch with the choir phone Odwa on 081 555 3789.

About the author

Mickey Mentz

From my Barrydale base, my goal is to tell the stories of people and places on the picturesque R62. Ek het oor die jare 'n cappuccino verslawing ontwikkel en my hond se naam is Karoolus.

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