Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A voice calls "Woza, woza" (meaning, "keep moving" in Xhosa,) interspersed with drumbeats. The heat and sun leaves few sane to observe Sticks, as he instructs Mphumzi, on drums. The youngest and most competant drum student, Mphumzi is attentive as Sticks dances with the drumkit teaching Mphumzi to count in 4/4 time.

Rhythm, is the backbone to a solid musician. Sticks recognizes this. With each touch of the drumkit his body movement, and wrist action entices interest. Employed in September 2010, Sticks currently teaches six students, and has more lined up. His musical energy, is contagious. Teaching in the schools main room, passerby's and students alike, have the joy of witnessing his lessons.

Ntonga is grateful to have Sticks. He instructs three days a week teaching new rhythms interspresed with theory. When asked why he teaches at Ntonga, Sticks replied, "there is a shortage of drummers in Cape Town, and, I want to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation."

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Playing for Change Band member and manager visit Ntonga Music School

Erika Duffee, the Playing for Change Band Manager, and Mohammed Alidu, a band member, visited Ntonga Music School during their stay in Cape Town, South Africa, December 2010. Despite summer break, three dedicated students currently in the Ntonga student ensemble, Yonelisa Wambi, Prince Mafu and Enkosinati, came to Ntonga to meet Erika and Alidu. Alidu shared his musical journey with the students. Originally from the remote village of Tamale, in Northern Ghana, he now tours the world with the Playing for Change Band, and is the program founder of a Playing for Change Music School,the Bizung Music and Dance School in Tamale, Ghana. His journey is a source of inspiration to Ntonga students. It is one of dedication, perseverance, and patience. After sharing his story, Alidu invited Yonelisa to play guitar. Alidu soon joined him on his talking drum. This musical interaction revealed the power music has to connect humanity. Kids from the surrounding community soon joined the musical moment, forming a circle around the musicians. As Alidu and Erika reminded the students, music is a powerful tool. It has the power to communicate without words. Erika and Alidu’s visit encouraged and reminded Ntonga students that success in any career is a combination of talent and luck!

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebrating a Fruitful Term!

Celebrating a Fruitful Term!
Ntonga Music School has witnessed an incredibly fruitful term -employment of new teachers, formation of two ensembles and participation in several events including Africa Day in Stellenbosch, and air time on Bush Radio in Cape Town.

Reconciliation Day in Delft:

On Wednesday, December 15th, the two ensembles participated in a program in Delft, a twenty minute drive from Guguletu. Organized by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), this event aimed to commemorate the National Day of Reconciliation in South Africa. Nine youth groups from communities across the Cape Flats region were invited to meet in the racially diverse community of Delft. The goal of the event was to celebrate diversity and address reconciliation.

The event opened with a jazz band and dancers performing several traditional numbers. The performance was followed by introductions from members of the IJR educating the audience about the institute and its intention for the day -to unite diverse communities on the Cape Flats around the topic of reconciliation. Following introductions, each audience member took part in a workshop of their choice. Some Ntonga students participated in a poetry workshop, others painted pictures of what they understood reconciliation to look like.

I participated in a workshop looking at images from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This interactive workshop provided a brief history of the conflict unfolding in the DRC. The facilitator, Mariam, then asked the group their perception of the photos. What do the photos tell you about the regions conflict and means to reconcile? The workshop brought forward the elastic definition of reconciliation -spiritual, pragmatic and religious. With participants representing countries across Africa, the conversation was dynamic and rich. It became clear that reconciliation comes down to telling the truth. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee aimed to make transparent crimes committed against humanity. As one man pointed out, most African countries suffering from poor governance lack leaders willing to speak the truth. Without truth and transparency, reconciliation and nation building has limited hope. The conference closed with a couple musical numbers leaving the audience dancing and the room filled with joyous smiles.

Ntonga Music School Party:

Ntonga Music School held a party Friday, December 17th, to celebrate the end of the semester with food, certificates of completion and smiles! In 85F weather, approximately 40 students crowded into Ntonga Music School to feast, play music, receive certificates and rejoice in their accomplishments. To my delight, despite numerous delays in food and the heat, students waited excitedly to receive the first certificates given by the Ntonga Music School. Before presenting certificates, Pokie Klaas spoke to the students thanking them for their hard work. All teachers lined up to make the certificate distribution official. Pokie, with the assistance of all teachers, called out the names of each student. Each teacher got a turn to call students up, shake their hand, and present them with a certificate. Students young and old were beaming with delight as they waited patiently for their names to be called. When their name was called they walked with pride to the front, to receive the certificate acknowledging their hard work and dedication. The event was an important milestone. Pokie’s dream is becoming a reality.

Ntonga Music School will be on break until January 10th.

Ntonga wishes everyone a Happy Holiday Season. More to come in the New Year!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Summer Jazz Afternoon

I am excited to announce that the ‘Summer Jazz Afternoon’ at Ntonga Music School, was a great success. The event was a fundraiser for more instruments and other basic needs at the school.

To promote the fundraiser, on Friday, November 26th, the Ntonga Music School had an interview at Bush Radio in Woodstock, a suburb outside Cape Town. Pokie, Phyllis, Sam, David, and the girls and boys ensembles were on air for thirty minutes. Phyllis, Sam, and Pokie shared the story of how Ntonga Music School was founded and the intention behind the school. The interviewer from Bush Radio seemed impressed.

The interviews were followed with three numbers from the student ensembles. The ensembles crammed three trumpets, a bass, piano, Djembe (drum), keyboard and saxophone into the broadcast room performing with enthusiasm and excitement. Pokie closed the broadcast by announcing the Summer Jazz Afternoon at Ntonga.

The Summer Jazz Afternoon on Sunday, November 28th, was a soaring success. Phyllis, the treasurer for Ntonga Music School, was the event MC. She started the event with a prayer, followed by thanking people who have contributed to the school, and providing a brief history of Ntonga Music School. The event started at 2pm (African time), and the first two hours featured Ntonga students. Having students display their progress was monumental. The students had a ball. They showcased several numbers captivating the audience with their talent and passion. Several students performed popular jazz standards including Ntyilo Ntiylo, sung by the popular and recently diseased South African singer, Miriam Makeba. The audience was comprised of Ntonga Music School students, youth, parents, community members, and a few international individuals. Following the Ntonga student performances, guest artists took stage "wowing" all with great jazz solos. The event closed with Pokie and his band performing several numbers.

More than raising funds, the event brought exposure to Ntonga Music School and highlighted the talent and passion of Ntonga Music School students. The enthusiasm, enjoyment, and growing commitment of the students and teachers was evident to all.
Stay tuned, Guguletu

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ntonga Music School LIVE

Ntonga Music School held its first LIVE broadcast last Wednesday, November 17th! Using VSee technology, the Ntonga Music Ensemble connected to the Playing for Change Foundations Band, live in Boston, America. The connection was broadcast on the web bringing in over 700 international viewers. For teachers and Ntonga committee members alike, this was a rare and exciting opportunity to interact with youth in America. The hour long broadcast included a conversation with the Playing for Change Foundations (PFCF) band member, Titi Tsira, from Guguletu, followed by a question and answer session between youth in Boston and youth at Ntonga. The PFCF Band then performed for Ntonga Youth followed by two numbers from the Ntonga Music Schools boys and girls ensemble. The final number included PFCF Band and Ntonga Music School Ensemble performing "Stand by Me," together.

This hour long broadcast offered youth of Ntonga and the surrounding community an opportunity to have a dialogue with youth from another part of the world. For township youth, the media is their primary connection to America. This one way connection can be deceptive. The LIVE broadcast gave Ntonga youth and youth in Boston the opportunity to interact with each other and realize their shared dreams and goals.

For those unable to see the LIVE Broadcast, a recording will be available shortly.

More soon, Guguletu

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ntonga Encourages New Chapters in the Lives of Youth

In preparing for the live VSee broadcast to the United States scheduled for this coming Wednesday, members of the Ntonga Music School Ensemble have met several evenings this week to rehearse. It is exciting to witness them learn new musical phrasing, rhythms, harmonies and have FUN! Dave Robain, the saxophone and flute teacher, with the assistance of Sticks and Pokie, dedicates his time to organize, inspire, encourage and support the youth involved in the girls and boys
ensemble. As their sound improves, the youth can feel new possibilities for writing a different chapter in their lives.

Before the ensemble met yesterday afternoon, Dave had an informal conversation with the teenagers about some other tough topics; the issues of HIV or AIDS, relationships, sex and love. Conversations of this nature are important for any youth group, but with the HIV or AIDS rate in South Africa, these conversations are essential for the possibility of writing a different history for the current generation of South African youth. Many youth engaged in the conversation felt the government, unfortunately, encourages sex. In South Africa,"you can live for decades with the disease if you can afford the medication," one student said. For another teenager, born and raised in Uganda, his understanding of HIV or AIDS is very different. Most victims die within a month, as the cost of medication leaves them to suffer without an alternative for treatment.

When Dave asked, "do you guys know your 'status' and has anyone seen an AIDS victim in their last days?" A few students nodded. That visual experience can be a startling awakening. In South Africa, like the United States (medication is provided to keep those infected with HIV or AIDS alive for a longer time.) Medication enables residents living with HIV or AIDS to live a relatively normal life in South Africa. White tents on Saturday afternoons are the only indication of the number of township residents dying from the potent disease. White tents are used on Saturday's to house funerals. The student from Uganda reminded other students, "when I came from Uganda in 2004, white tents were on almost every street in the township on Saturday afternoons." Because South Africans living with HIV or AIDS can keep their life relatively normal, the social and physical cost of the disease remains relatively unnoticed. Without exposure, youth don’t realize the seriousness of HIV or AIDS.

One effective means of teaching is bringing youth to a clinic to witness the real physical effect of AIDS. Dave tours the world. "Before each tour I am tested." My life depends on remaining HIV negative. For Ntonga youth, they must understand the serious consequence of HIV or AIDS. Some may go on to travel the world. However, living in the HIV or AIDS capital is of great risk to their dreams and goals.

What young adults need is someone willing to discuss the topic of safe sex. One youth noted, "I was lucky to have a friend who told me I don’t need to do it to be cool." The youth were very engaged throughout the conversation. Dave reminded the youth to respect and care for one another. He stated, "I was fortunate to receive love and encouragement from my parents." Not all youth are that fortunate, he reminded the group. "Be kind to one another, be there for one another, encourage each other. Change the way people see you and begin to think independently." Lastly, he reminded all young men to treat women right. He told them his perceptions of women. Women must deal with many challenges; menstruation, childbirth, keeping the family together, and sometimes, physical abuse. Women are the pillars of society. They shape us, we must cherish, respect and appreciate them.

By opening this conversation, youth received the support to think for themselves and consider their own behavior. These ideas will influence the next chapter of their and South African history. Those willing to reflect and question the system are able to truly understand a new element of freedom.

More soon, Guguletu

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Monday, November 8, 2010

"Man in the Mirror"

The life skills course opened this Saturday with two questions: "What does life skills mean to you and what knowledge do you seek from this course?" Facilitated by Sam Pono and I,this course aims to attract teenagers vulnerable to the allures of street life. While some are not students at Ntonga, this course serves to educate and support youth in making good life choices.

In speaking with teenagers we create a space for dialogue. Their definitions of life skills included "how you see yourself," "how you behave," and "skills to guide how a human handles him/herself." Each teen shared.

Pokie said, "Be self, know self, respect self." This seemed like an important declaration. As the founder, Pokie sets the example for all who enter and study at Ntonga. His participation enables him to engage with and teach the youth.

In asking what each student sought from the course, Thembele, currently studying saxophone answered, "learn discipline, learn more and know more," while Xolisa, a fourteen year old boy unable to attend weekly lessons at Ntonga said, "I want to learn more about music because I love music." Mphumzi, an exuberant drummer, answered, "I want to play like others to give to others," and Prince, a current bass student at Ntonga, expressed his desire to learn how to better behave himself.

Their participation during this session was encouraging. While only the first time for several, they jumped in, sharing their thoughts freely and engaging in conversation with their peers.

Most rewarding was ending the session with a song and “take home” message from "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson. Magadien, who spoke two weeks earlier, recommended as a music school we use music to teach the life skills course. This song speaks about personal challenges and calls each individual to make change their responsibility. Like Gandhi's words "Be the change you wish to see in the world," "Man in the Mirror" reminded the group to look in the mirror for the change they seek.

After playing this song, I asked the students to share what they felt or thought while listening. I asked "whose the man in the mirror?" Khanyisa, a seventeen year old girl who studies piano and recently took up drums responsded, its you! "We must make the change we seek." The group nodded. I reminded them that they are responsible for their own happiness and they must take responsibility to make changes in their own lives, not waiting for others or substances to become a "fix."

More soon, Guguletu

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1. www.playingforchange.org