Soweto to go big in Germany
Not everyone who grows up in a dusty township gets to be a part of an orchestra and be successful.
It is no secret that most kids from townships love playing sport in the streets – from netball to football and other sporting codes. Some neighbourhoods have diphala (brass bands), usually found in churches and whose members were historically mostly men.
But three Soweto women are about to change the face of diphala and make it big in Germany.
Being part of an orchestra, they are sometimes called weird or snobs as orchestral music is still seen as “white man’s stuff” in the townships.
Nomusa Bapela (23), Atlegang Mohale (22) and Zinhle Mfama (24) enjoy being part of the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra, something that seemed like a dream not too long ago.
Two months ago their orchestra was invited to Germany and the three are excited to visit the country.
“Girl, bona, excitement e reng mo ngwaneng? (Girl, look, we are so excited) ... we are counting the days,” says Mohale with a laugh.
Besides playing the trombone, Mohale is a qualified teacher and an HR student. She has been playing the instrument for seven years and says it has been a challenging but fun experience.
Mfama plays the bassoon and has been in the game for about 13 years now. This year she auditioned for an orchestra festival and was chosen to play in Durban.
“I played with the professionals. It was so nerve-wracking because those were world-class musicians. I had to live up to that standard, but it was an amazing experience,” says Mfama.
She confesses that learning to play the instrument wasn’t easy.
“You have to be persistent and patient. I had to juggle both school and music. Having to get distinctions is hard, but you have to manage your time properly – practice and study.”
Bapela grew up in Protea Glen and has been playing the French horn for 13 years. She started playing the instrument when she was in Grade 5.
“There are not a lot of women who play the instrument. It is actually one of the most difficult, so whenever I play it I feel so proud.
“Most women tend to run away from it; they would rather go for the saxophone, violin and other instruments,” she says.
Mohale cuts in to say they all play instruments that are male dominated. “Women power!” they say, laughing.
The Johannesburg Youth Orchestra also had a visit from another orchestra all the way from the US and it is now their turn to take their first-ever international trip.
“We are looking forward to seeing how the people live because what we see on TV does not necessarily reflect their lifestyle. We want to get that information and bring it back to South Africa,” says Mfama.
All three of them once wanted to join a military band, but those plans have changed for Mfama and Mohale.
“I wanted to join the military band because there are bands in the churches where we are not allowed. I I was going to get an opportunity to do what I love – the drills and music,” says Mohale.
She adds that she studied teaching because she was linking it to music so that she could pass both experiences on to others.
“For me, playing for a professional orchestra will be an ultimate dream come true,” says Mfama.
They cannot wait to learn more about the German culture and the instruments they play.
“When they [the German orchestra] were here I noticed that they did not use percussions, but they improvised and used chairs to make them sound like an instrument. I would like to learn and understand that too,” says Mohale.