Fezeka is located in a township of Cape Town called "Guguletu". When you think of the word "township", we're not talking country club. In South Africa a township refers to underdeveloped urban areas that were created during Apartheid in which blacks and non-whites were forcibly evicted from their homes to live in shelters often made out of metal. Guguletu is one of those townships.
In the YouTube link, I noticed that the school looked more like a prison than a school. The director of the choir mentioned in the video that arts and natural sciences was not part of the standard school curriculum. I was told that this is still the case in 2011 as these subjects are not directly related to what a person needs in order to have a regular job.
Mzandile (Mzawi for short) from Novalis was our escort to the high school and explained to us that the children were taking their year-end school exams (our winter is their summer). When we pulled up to the school it was just as I remembered from the video, an open yard surrounded by 3 brick buildings lined with classrooms. Some broken glass and a few kids kicking ball before the next class started. Everyone had on uniforms just as they did in the video.
Commonly before sharing our names we were introduced as "our guest from America". Robin Jane and I were escorted around to different classrooms and introduced to students. Finally we made it to the classroom where we would meet the choir. There we met a few students that work with Mzawi in youth theatrical programs, Aht, Mbuhti and Nomkhita. Then slowly but surely the choir members began to walk in. It appeared the director had been spending some time rounding them up (end of the school year...you can imagine). Soon everyone was present and the Mr. Tsewu gave a few words of introduction and then we began working on the song.
These kids learned so quickly. I would show them one time and they would have it down. I assigned a solo part to a young lady named Nolufefe. She was very shy but very confident as well. There was one note she was unsure of and another member of the choir offered to sing it with her. It was easy to tell that she was slightly disheartened.
It was Wednesday (Day 2) and many times Mr. Tsewu and Mzwai would discuss things in Xhosa with a mixture of English. We (the Americans) were lost. What was being discussed is the fact that we would be performing at Fezeka School's end of the year school party, which was on Friday. Thank God for fast learners. The rehearsal went so well, they wanted to learn another song so I taught them the title track to my current CD "Spirit is Alive". All I had to say to them was "do a three part harmony on the chorus" and they had it down easily. It was incredible.
After the rehearsal Mzwai gave us a tour of the Guguletu township. One of the sites is a monument dedicated to a group of seven young men that were murdered on March 3rd 1986 by apartheid security forces. They were each shot in the head along with multiple gunshot wounds. Another monument is for a girl named Amy Biehl. She was a student who had a huge heart for women in South Africa. On a Fulbright Fellowship she left for South Africa to attend University of Western Cape. She worked with leaders in organizations such as the African National Congress and other groups wanting a democratic and free South Africa.
So passionate about her work she didn't concern herself much with the color of her skin. One night she was murdered during a political mob rally by four men who were later convicted of the crime. A memorial in her honor stands in the Guguletu township where the killing took place and a foundation was established in her name. Surrounding these monuments were homes that in many cases were smaller than my modest living room and kitchen. I have several friends whose living rooms would equal 3 houses in Guguletu.
During rehearsal Robin Goff pointed out the lyric "I'll say a prayer that you are blessed beyond appearances" emphasizing the point that no matter what the outer conditions appear to be that a prayer would be made focusing the blessing. As we continued to ride through the township I looked at the housing conditions. These are the homes of the very talented students that I would be singing with. They truly are a blessing despite the conditions they live in which we see as impoverished or even hopeless.
The day of the performance arrived. Outside the community center was a dance and drumming group called Marimba who would later perform for the school party. I was interviewed by a local newspaper, the students gave a preview of their work to parents in an exhibit hall and then the concert and performing artists section was up. Spirit is Alive was the opening number and I'll Light a Candle in Your Name would be the finale'. Nolufefe came up to me and said "Bukeka I want to sing it by myself, but please don't tell my teacher". I told her I would tell him, but she begged be not to.
On Spirit Is Alive, the crowd went nuts. I was feeling like I had serious rock star status in front of a crowd of about 200 people. The other acts were comprised of students from Fezeka and they were so talented. There was modern dance, a short play about a family from Zimbabwe moving to Cape Town "where there are jobs man", and an African dance and drumming troop.
When we came to the finale' I asked "Fefe" if she was ready and she said "READY". We performed the song and got a standing ovation. We were only on Day 4 of our trip and we (the Americans) ended it by saying "this was an amazing day".
The video that introduced me to the Fezeka High School Choir
Choir Rehearsing I'll Light a Candle In Your Name
Monument of the Guguletu Seven
Spirit is Alive with Fezeka Choir
The Marimba Dance Troop
I'll Light a Candle in Your Name (feat. Nolufee Mazokwana-send her some love on facebook and tell her to stay in school)