Historically, black people in South Africa have always been exposed to oppression and violence. First through colonialism, and later through the systematic violence sanctioned by the inhumane and oppressive Apartheid regime, black people not only had to fight for their own survival, but also for keeping their dignity alive. But the one thing that has always kept the African people united and has carried them through these decades of violent oppression through their European "masters", was their deep and unfaltering love for music! Whether in churches, at traditional ceremonies, at funerals, or even at the demonstrations against the oppressive regime that often turned violent and their never ending battles for their human rights and dignity - music and dance have always been an integral part of the African identity. Every black South African who has lived through these dark and perilous times will confirm, that music not only strengthened the resolve of the African people, but literally played a vital role in keeping people alive and sane. And the more violent the oppression turned out to be, the more powerful the songs coming out of this dark era became. To this day the many now famous "struggle songs" are being sung at funerals, cultural events and traditional ceremonies. Songs such as "Senzeni Na?", "Thula Sizwe", "Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica" and "Safa Saphel'isizwe" have become part of the undeniable cultural heritage of of the African People. Musical legends such as Zenzile Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), Brenda Fassie (1964-2004) und Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (1939-2018) - just to name a few - have become unforgettable musical icons in South Africa and beyond, and Mbongeni Ngema's musical "Sarafina" is still being re-enacted by young schoolchildren all over South Africa's Townships.
Out of this background, the first youth choir formed in my first project in the Townships (Indawo Yentsikelelo, 2004-2009). Zabalaza - founded by the two sisters Xolisa Majambe & Bongiwe Majambe - performed for the first time at an international youth conference in London/UK in 2006 in front of 5.000 youth from all over the world. What followed were two musical tours with the choir through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK in 2007 and 2008. The success was sensational and by far exceeded all of our expectations. Almost 10.000 people watched us perform on each one of our tours. The audiences grew bigger every night, and standing ovations for our young performers became the norm. Many people left the concerts with tears in their eyes. And even financially those two maiden tours were already a resounding success.
After the project moved from the townships to the newly purchased Vulamasango Farm in 2009, three more tours to Europe followed in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and after one of the choir's founders, Xolisa Majambe, moved to Germany, the choir continued its work under the leadership of Xolisa's former musical assistant, Lusanda Bali, and under the new name Vulingoma, with two more tours in 2016 and 2018. Since the planned tour for 2020 had to be re-scheduled to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the bi-annual rhythm has now shifted to the uneven years. But the work of the choir continues and has by now become an integral part of our work in the project Vulamasango.
An essential part of the work with the youth choir consists of working through the many traumatic experiences of our children, who often stem from homes wrecked by alcohol, unemployment, HIV and poverty. Many of the children have already lost a close family member to violence or Aids, or have been abused or even raped at very young ages. The musical therapy, which is part of working with the choir, helps the children to work through their experienced traumata and to develop the strength they need to function as young adults. Through this unique chance to express their talents as well as their emotions in front of audiences in Europe, the youth return to South Africa with the emotional strength and new-found self-confidence they need to start tackling the many problems they experience on a daily basis, and to literally start "a new song" in their lives!
Under the leadership of the new Musical Director Lusanda Bali and his Musical Assistant Akhona (Pinky) Stuurman, who already travelled to Europe as a then 15-year old with the first tour in 2007, the choir has now taken a new direction. The emotionally heavy "struggle songs" have given way to the more celebratory songs sung at cultural and traditional events, and hopeful gospel songs and even more modern songs by Peter Gabriel, Bob Marley and the Soweto Gospel Choir are now regularly part of the repertoire. All in all, the entire stage show has thus taken on a more emotionally happy and hopeful format, in order to reflect not only the positive developments in the children's lives and the project itself, but in South Africa as a whole.
On tour in Europe, the youth of Vulingoma are obviously experiencing a whole new and unfamiliar world. And since we are selecting and training an almost entirely new choir every two years, a new group of youth aged 11 - 17 years gets the unique chance to experience this very different world in Europe at least once in their lifetime. They are being applauded and admired and for the first time in their lives get a chance to showcase their incredible talent in front of large audiences. The flight home is never easy and many a tear is shed. But after their return we always experience, how the youth, with their newly found self-confidence, are better equipped to tackle life's many challenges. The imense hope, strength and joy, but also the strong belief in a better future for themselves, are clearly visible in their daily lives.
Vulingoma is thus so much more than just an "African Entertainment Show". Behind the incredible success of the Vulingoma Youth Choir and its predecessor Zabalaza, lies not only the incredible talent of the youth themselves, but first and foremost the therapeutic work and the preparation and training through the musical therapists and choir masters running this choir. It is precisely this work that even makes it possible, that the children and youth, despite their often traumatic backgrounds, are able to bring such a powerful performance to the stage!
Do not miss this performance. It will be worth it!!
Vulamasango Project Founder
Youth Care Manager