How a man named Radio got into Choir
29 June 2015
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live radio, my name is Aphiwe Monono. As we do every day, we bring your choristers and conductors in and around the SADC region. Today we’re speaking to Mr Sonwabele Radio Mchuba from the Eastern Cape. He is a conductor and a school manager. Mr Sonwabele Mchuba, thank you so much for joining us on Old Mutual Live radio, how are you today?
Sonwabele Mchuba: I’m fine Aphiwe, thank you so much. I’ve just heard that you’re also fine as well, except that in Grahamstown it’s a very cold season, winter season at this time.
AN: And the National Arts Festival is coming up, are you attending by any chance or do you ever attend the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown?
National Arts Festival provides inspiration
SM: Yes, of course, in fact year in and year out I do attend some of the shows. But it’s chilly, it’s really quite cold, but no, the shows are so interesting.
AN: You have to go, even though it’s cold. You have to brave the weather and just go out there and watch the talent in the country.
SM: Ja, especially the shows that you really love.
AN: I’m glad to hear that, I’m glad that even in the blistering cold we still go out and watch our local talent, that’s very inspiring. But enough of the National Arts Festival, let’s talk about you Mr Sonwabele Radio Mchuba. Let’s start with the name Radio, is that your birth name or is that the name given to you by your parents, tell us about that name?
How Sonwabele was called Radio
SM: It’s an official name that appears in my ID book, I’m well known by that name, Radio. Apparently when I wanted to know the history of it, you know, my parents actually they told me that when the radio is born, I used to be so curious to find out who is inside the radio. I’d always crawl towards the radio and because the radio is always touched and it would fall sometimes, they would say, oh, this radio, you see!
AN: So they gave you the name.
SM: Ja, the name.
AN: Beautiful stuff. Mr Mchuba, you are the conductor of the Masakeke Adult Choir in Grahamstown. Can you tell us a bit more about your choir and how many members you have. Just a brief outline of what your choir is about.
SM: Yeah, actually my choir, it’s quite an old choir which was established years ago, about some decades ago in 1984 and I was still a chorister then. There were some conductors who were still conducting. I took over towards the late 80s as a conductor as well and then the aim of our choir basically, it was to sort of group up the youth. To give the youth something to do and then it built up as a strong choir.
It also participated a number of years in the National, in the Old Mutual Choral Festival and also in other festivals. Which are provincial as well, like MK Choral Music Association; I mean festivals, which are organised by the Eastern Cape Choral Music Association. It also participates in some other local festivals, also in Standard Bank Arts Festival, we also participate there, quite a lot.
Hard to hold onto success and talent
AN: Any wins or titles under your belts?
SM: Of course, we used to win a lot, but lately, ja, we used to win. There are some titles, but it’s just that now, it’s not so vibrant as it used to be. Because some choristers, you know you build choristers and then because they’re seeking jobs elsewhere and then you start afresh and all that. But it’s a choir that is still there, but it is not as vibrant as it used to be.
AN: I hear you Mr Mchuba and you know, choral music is not as popular as other genres of music and I hear you saying that some of your members will venture out and go and find solid work. Something that will really put food on the table. Do you think, can a person make a living out of singing in a choir; can a person make a living by being a chorister?
SM: To a certain stage, but it’s not as vibrant as in some other genres of music. It’s quite unfortunate with choral music you see, because it’s not, it doesn’t have; like in other genres of music, like popular music, jazz and some because it’s unfortunate, because we find out that one, two or three years down the line you would have a very good choir. Then as the time goes we’d find out, these people, they are not making their living out of choral music.
Then they will seek some jobs elsewhere and then that’s how, even though, it’s the case, you’ll find out that they sing for the love of choral music. Because we do a community, you see and sometimes we would come together as a choir perhaps for that particular festival. Then you’d see that these people they’re doing it out of love, it’s not much payment they get, but that’s the unfortunate part about choral music.
AN: Leading up to the Old Mutual Choir Festival, National Choir Festival this year Mr Mchuba, what preparations are in place? What have you and your choir been rehearsing and how do you plan to razzle and dazzle the crowd this year?
No challenge at the National festival this year
SM: No, it’s unfortunate this year we’re not participating. In fact for the past few years, two or three years down the line, we’ve not been participating to the Old Mutual Choir Festival.
AN: Why is this?
SM: Ja, perhaps because as I said, in fact the choir itself is not as vibrant as it used to be. Even myself, sometimes I get so lazy to get to the practices. I would be phoned by choristers, Mr Conductor, please and etc etc. Sometimes you’d find the choir quite vibrant at certain periods of time and sometimes it would lose its energy. It’s on and off, but it’s unfortunate now, we’re not participating for this year because the reason, some choristers are not around and also I’m quite busy.
Although I still have a passion and love of music, but sometimes we would organise the choir for some other activities and some other festivals. But not for the Old Mutual Choir Festival, unfortunately not this year. We will see, maybe in the future, maybe next year we will participate.
AN: I like that you say the passion for the music, I guess that’s something you don’t just wake up and say, I just want to do choral music when there are so many genres out there that you can pick from. What would you say made you fall in love with choral music Mr Mchuba?
A true passion for choral music
SM: That’s way back when I was still a student at school, I used to sing and I just developed an interest in music. I don’t know, perhaps my mother was also a chorister, used to sing at school. Maybe I would say that kind of talent, it just comes out and it becomes so prominent then when you are maybe kind of hands on or minds on, when you are perhaps participating practically in the choir. Then that’s how we develop you see and ja, because there are also other genres of music that I’m interested in.
For instance in the Arts Festival, I never missed a single jazz show, because I really love, contemporary jazz. I’ve discovered there is quite a correlation between choral and jazz. You would find especially when in choral music, you talk about minor chords. So if you are a listener of jazz, you won’t have a problem in terms of choral music. To perhaps listen and sort of enjoy any song with those minor chords, which seem not to be so nice in the ear, you get what I mean?
AN: I get you.
SM: So I just developed interest in choral music and so it is, although I’m not making much living out of it. But I started music, I did everything with music and currently I’m also an adjudicator in choral festivals, but unfortunately it’s not my living. As I said, I’m working as a school manager in one of the senior secondary schools in Grahamstown, that’s how I put food on the table, that’s my living.
AN: And for a young person that is listening right now Mr Mchuba, who wants to get into the choral industry, what would your advice be to them?
Don’t let the challenges deter you
SM: I mean the present youth is quite fortunate, it’s unlike me, because in the olden days I developed a love for music, even once I was still at school. But unfortunately the schools that I attended in the township, there was no music offered as a subject. For them there is an opportunity, lots of schools are offering music as a subject, so they can take and follow music as a career. So these days, I think you can take music as a career, it can actually take you into greater heights. You can put something on the table in terms of choral music. I would encourage them, whoever would have an interest in music, there is, I mean I would say there is a light around the tunnel in terms of choral music.
AN: Thank you so much for joining us on Old Mutual live here today Mr Mchuba and all the best for your future endeavours.