In 2003 a music teacher approached a school in Hout Bay, South Africa, asking to teach music to four or five students. But the instructor, Leanne Dollman, was in for a surprise – nearly 800 students wanted to learn. It was then that she realized that the Hout Bay Music Project was going to be big and would need a lot of support. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Unathi Kondile in Cape Town visited the project.
Hout Bay is a beautiful place, 50 miles outside of Cape Town. Today, it has all kinds of socio-economic groups and many cultures living together. It’s a little bay with harbours, mountains and magnificent beach views.
Extremely wealthy people live close to the mountains, while the middle class resides in the valley. Lower income people live closer to the beach, with the poor residing in townships full of wooden homes and shacks.
One such community is the informal settlement called Imizamo Yethu– which is Xhosa for “Our Own Efforts.” Imizamo Yethu is home to many of the children who take part in the Hout Bay Music Project.
Leanne Dollman is the head of the effort. She says, “I knew that township kids don’t have access to arts education, and there’s just no way to develop talent, especially music, if it requires an instrument – it’s very hard, difficult for the kids to get hold of instruments, so when I moved to Hout Bay I knew that was what I wanted to do – to try and get some instruments and give some children an opportunity to enjoy their music.”
Through this effort, Leanne is also trying to address the inequalities of the past. In the days of racial segregation, or apartheid, black school children were not allowed to study music or creative subjects.
Leane visited a number of Hout Bay schools to show that teaching music would broaden the children’s career choices.
She even tried to convince a headmaster at the Oranjekloof primary school in Hout Bay. No one had ever taught music here and he didn’t believe the children would be interested or that Leane would even return to teach it. She surprised all by coming back and arranging small classes.
The Hout Bay Music Project’s first break came when they got a private donation of 15 violins. The instruments were shared among the growing number of children. Their next big donation of musical instruments came from Germany.
Leanne tells us about the growth of the project: “Today we have about 80 children learning various instruments. We offer base, cello, violin, and then we also do an African music program, where we have incorporated marimbas and Djembe drumming and some other African instruments such as Mouth bow and traditional instruments. We play a whole mix of huge range of music, from classical to African, to Irish Jigs to Tango – we really explore musical territory. “
The children seem very much involved, and enjoy what they’re doing. The goal of the project is to provide opportunities to children from poorer communities.
The aim is for them to express the identity of their communities and ethnic groups through music and the performing arts. They perform most of their songs in Xhosa, songs that talk about their cultures and upbringing. Some of the children are as young as seven years old, “My name is Vuyisani, I’m playing drums.”
Luyanda is 15, “I play the cello and I’m the lead singer." (Sings: Wo jikelele emaweni siyahamba, wo jikelele emaweni siyahamba.)
The Project has gained enormous support from the Hout Bay community. It earns fees from an increasing number of performances, foreign donors and local donors.
The Hout Bay Music Project currently practices at a community hall, but that might change as a private funder is planning to build them a music school. The Project also plans to tour other parts of South Africa and also release a CD this year or early in 2009.