Thokozani Ndlovu – helping put on a show
11 November 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now, it’s time to chat more music and as the end of the year approaches, it is almost time to start chatting more about the grand finale of the Old Mutual National Choir Festival. One of the people who are involved on this year’s management committee is Thokozani Ndlovu, all the way down in KZN, Thokozani, welcome onto Old Mutual Live today, thanks for joining us.
Thokozani Ndlovu: Thank you very much as, we would say musically, heellllooo!
BB: I love it. Thokozani, before we get into your involvement with the National Choir Festival, let’s take a step back and find out a little bit more about you. Where did your journey into choral music begin?
Got into choral music from a young age
TN: Okay, firstly I grew up in a township called Umlazi, that is south of Durban and I started singing in a church choir, a Lutheran church choir as a young person. I joined later as a young adult, the Durban Serenade Choral Society. At the time I was studying music and drama at the Technikon in Natal, majoring in voice. So I’ve always been involved in choral music and the competitions and the concerts and the festival and wherever there was choral music, I would be there as a young person, way back then.
Also what influenced me most was my mom’s love for choral music. I remember growing up with records, used to play at my house. Also the Handel Messiah, as well, so I was quite exposed to choral or classical music. Then later I was recruited by my mom’s friend who is now my friend, we call her Sis Kelma who was then serving in the National Choir Festival management committee. She said we need younger people now in the committee, that’s how I got recruited in the National Choir Festival management committee.
BB: What a cool story. Thokozani, looking back at your childhood, growing up in a house where there was always music playing and having the church choir, you being around that as a youngster as well, can you remember your first memory or choral music? I don’t know how old you would have been, but can you remember, obviously having it around and hearing it, but can you remember that first, where you thought, hey, this is really cool, I like this.
TN: I do, I do. I must have been about eight years old, listening to the hallelujah chorus by Handel, the Messiah, that just stayed on in my mind. It used to play also, I think probably do it here, Hallelujah, during Christmas time in the stores, when they play their music, their Christmas carols, the tune would still be there. My first even choral music competition that I participated in, I was 13 at the church choir competition. It was tough, but yes, I’ve grown within the choral music family and community and I’m just loving it day by day.
BB: As far as the choral music scene in South Africa, it’s got a huge following. I mean hence the popularity of the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, how would you say it’s grown over the years? From when you were a child growing up to what it is today, that growth has been incredible, how would you describe it?
The heart of the music goes way back
TN: I can tell you this, this art form comes a long way. It comes as in during the gates of the struggle, when people would pretend to be in the church practicing music and yet they were holding meetings, political meetings at the time. Strategizing and planning how to fight on the horrible apartheid system that we were under.
You know, under the church choir pretext, no one would ever suspect that something else was going on, except to listen. I guess a few people would be singing whilst another group would be holding discussions. It has grown tremendously, especially more with the introduction of opera into our communities.
Opera has always been there, but it was looked at as a white art form for people that can afford. If you didn’t even understand the storyline of the particular opera, you wouldn’t even bother listening or going to see an opera being performed.
But now, this classical music, this choral music has incorporated quite a lot. We have a vast talent of young people that are greatly talented and are making it even overseas. The music schools that the country has through the universities, are doing a tremendous job because to train a person to be able to do that, to product that voice, in a manner that is needed for that particular character and that particular music, is really something out of this world.
Choral music as well has grown so much. You know, the one thing that I think that is still a bit of a challenge with us, in the black communities, is we’re still using the same things and yet it’s much more better, it’s easier, it’s more accurate to the ear, but I promise, we are getting there.
BB: As far as studying music and following that as a career path, has it become more accessible to the average person to be able to do that Thokozani?
TN: My own parents couldn’t understand it before, but then she grew to get to know that I love this thing and I think this is what I wanted to do. My first love was to do music therapy and at that time there was no university in the country that was doing it, that’s why I thought I would go and study overseas, but then it didn’t happen.
Yes, I’ve had a wonderful experience as a singer, as an opera singer, whether it was in a chorus, or a leading role or a supporting role, in any particular work, or a musical for that matter where you have to dance and you know, but I’ve had a wonderful experience.
I’m grateful to my parents and I’m grateful to all the people that have supported me, that have made me want to work more and I guess that is why I am where I am now, because I have actually identified the gap in terms of arts administration.
You know as an artist, all you want to do is to get onto the stage and perform. Some artists can’t even fill in their invoices for them to get paid, they only realise once they are very broke, oh, I haven’t been paid because administration to them, it’s just not part of them. All they want to do is give them a piece of music and they’ll get onto the stage and sing. Arts administration these days plays a very important role in terms of making sure that everything falls in its rightful place.
BB: I couldn’t agree more. Let’s talk about the Old Mutual National Choir Festival and you said you were roped in by invitation of one of your mom’s friends who’s now one of your friends. Tell us a little bit about your experience with the NCF, your first exposure to it and getting involved behind the scenes.
Why is being part of the Festival so special
TN: With NCF, yes, okay, when I was recruited into National Choir Festival as a management committee member, I found it was a completely different world, as I’ve said, administration. Especially in the arts, can be something quite different and unique, but I’ve learnt over the years. The making sure that your audience is happy, especially when we have to prescribe to the music.
We have a committee that sits down to decide what kind of music will be found the following year and one of the characteristics we’ve agreed upon is that black music, no matter how deeply classical or how educated the people of music can be, it should also be entertaining to the ear.
Because the choirs are not doing it for themselves only, they’re also doing it for the audiences that are there to watch them. So the audience must enjoy the music as well. It’s that, it’s when we plan for the national finals, when you have to arrange for the transport, you arrange the accommodation, the bookings, your Computickets. Everything that makes this event what it is now, is through hard work of each and every person in the committee and the expertise that each and every one of us brings to the committee.
At some stage we would argue or discuss uniforms. You know, the choirs, there are going to be times when you just have to wear black and white, no, choirs go to their designers these days. Choir conductors want to look smart, they want to look like they’re really in control and how they look when they’re dressed, it has to be professional and it must look appealing.
This whole business of choir, choral music, oh, you must see the hairstyles that are there and imagine, 60 choristers or more per choir, going to all these hair salons, wanting to look their best. It’s quite a lot of administration, but it’s quite exciting as well.
BB: I can’t wait, we’re going to be broadcasting live from those finals in Mangaung in the second weekend or third weekend of December, looking forward to that. Thokozani, tell me a little bit about the management committee. Obviously they’re all volunteers, there’s no paid positions on that committee, so if someone is listening to this and they’d like to get involved from an administration point of view and they’d like to help out, how do you go about getting elected onto that committee? What’s the process?
How the management committee is put together
TN: Okay, firstly, the management committee is there to assist Old Mutual manage this project much better. Initially the reason for the management committee to be there was that it had to have provincial representation so that people in the provinces can actually share information with the event management company if it’s there; or directly to Old Mutual office that builds with NCF to say these are the things we’ve identified as KZN or as Eastern Cape. Then as the years went by, budget wise and financial constraints, we couldn’t have provincial representatives.
From when I got into the management committee we were just looking at people at various provinces with various expertise in them. I’m an arts personnel, look more into the artistic issues of the project. We would have somebody, like currently we have somebody who is a chartered accountant, we have somebody who is an advocate, who would look into the legal matters and be able to advise. As the project grows, the challenges also grow, in good and in bad ways, so we need to be prepared for whatever situations and circumstances you come across.
These are the people who are just the ears and the eyes of Old Mutual through the communities and through the choral music family, people who want to have ideas to put on the table, then contact us saying, hey, how about doing this this time. It’s just to get management committee and Old Mutual plus all the choral music community involved in this project. Make them feel that they belong to this project as well.
BB: I love it. We’re going to be chatting more at length about this year’s competition the next time we catch up. We look forward to doing that, but thank you for your time today, much appreciated and we look forward to chatting again on Old Mutual Live.
TN: Thank you very much, you do keep well, thank you.