The Joy of Singing in South Africa
by Joyce Keil, Director, Ragazzi Boys Chorus
Ragazzi’s tour of South Africa was amazing and life-changing for all of us. The wide variety of experiences gave us a vivid understanding of the country and its people.
We landed in Durban and met our courier Myburgh. Pieter was a warm and knowledgeable host and he knew all the best places to go. The boys swam in the Indian Ocean and had dinner on the beach where the staff at the restaurant drummed and danced for us and we performed for them.
That evening, we sang with the boys from Kearsney College, a local prep school. After many years of singing “Shosholoza” at home, we were overwhelmed with the audience response when we sang it for Kearsney College. The audience roared and leapt to their feet. I suddenly realized in a more visceral way what this song about freedom means to the people here.
Next, we drove to the beautiful Drakensberg mountains and sang with the Drakensberg Boys Choir. Their campus has lots of monkeys and driving down the road we passed zebras and ostriches. The director of the choir taught our boys a new piece of music that we performed with them that afternoon on a live internet stream where our parents at home could watch the concert.
We then traveled to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve for a safari. On our very first outing we were very lucky and spotted many animals. The highlight was a large pride of lions with eight cubs. They walked right next to our vehicles on the way to a nearby lake. There were many elephants with young and we also spotted a baby giraffe run by with its mother. We had a BBQ on the reserve that night with a huge bonfire and wonderful food. We sang African songs with the staff. On our way back to our lodgings we had a night safari.
Ragazzi Boys Chorus with the Tandi Sibeko School Choir in the Duduza township near Johannesburg
We then moved on to Johannesburg. We sang in one of the informal settlements there called Duduza, where driving through you see nothing but small tin shacks. When we arrived at the hall the townspeople and students came out running, shouting, laughing and dancing. They hugged the boys as we got off the bus. The boys learned a song together with the local choirs and the people were beside themselves with excitement and joy. The concert was a completely new experience as the audience claps and cheers throughout the music. The roar at the end of each piece is deafening. Everyone wanted pictures with the boys. Afterwards, we donated our 70 sleeping bags and pillows to them. They waved their pillows and screamed as we left.
One of our chaperones exclaimed: “The people in this township are so joyful and enthusiastic; some of them literally ran up and embraced the boys as we got off the bus. This is a beautiful experience and the fulfillment of my deepest desire for this tour to South Africa.”
After a visit to the Apartheid Museum and a guided tour of Soweto, we made our way to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. It is very extravagant, with amazing facilities comparable to the best schools in the US. There are around 200 8th to 12th grade girls all on scholarship. We sang for them in their beautiful facilities. The girls could hardly contain themselves when our boys sang. We had dinner with them and then a tour of their campus.
For the final leg of our journey, we flew to Cape Town where the boys gave their final concert with the South African Youth Choir. The hall is incredible – all wood and wonderful acoustics. After the concert the African group spontaneously started singing in the lobby. Our boys joined in and the concert continued for another 30 minutes with most of the audience staying to listen! The two choirs were enjoying making music so much they could not stop singing.
The next day in Cape Town was a free day touring and we marveled at the scenery, the beautiful town and the amazing views along the coast. We took a boat to Seal Island, went shopping, saw penguins and had a final dinner bonanza.
This was a life-changing experience for all of us, creating bonds with people who live so far away but with whom we could share music.