Marimba lessons for youth: an interview with Mabongi Thusi

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Youth Day is celebrated annually in South Africa on 16 June.

Menán van Heerden chats to Mabongi Thusi, founder of the music programme at Inkwenkwezi Secondary School in the Dunoon township (in Milnerton, Cape Town), about the benefits of such a programme for youth.

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♦ Read more about marimba here

Listen to marimba here

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Xylophone with different types of mallets (Photo: Roumpf [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Mabongi, tell us more about your work with your youth marimba band. When, why and by whom was it started? What is your role in the project?

I started the music programme in 2017, together with my three sons, who had all just started university (first-year students then). My sons had learned music for the first time at high school, at Elkanah House High School, where they had been offered a bursary.

Having come from a poor and struggling background, when I saw how music impacted my sons and made them love school and achieve good grades, I wanted to give back to the poor community what had been given to my sons. I also wanted to teach my sons the culture of giving back, and that we are blessed in order to bless others.

I chose Inkwenkwezi Secondary School as a place where we could start, with the aim of growing and reaching other areas later. Inkwenkwezi is in an impoverished area of the Dunoon township.

Mabongi Thusi (Photo: provided)

I chose this school, because I already had a relationship with the school through supporting the community recycling project that is run on the school premises; I would encourage the learners to participate in the recycling.

Dunoon is also close to where we live, which makes it easier for my sons to take turns going there after their university classes; they come home, and I take them there to give lessons.

The challenge was that the school did not have instruments. My sons and I did a fundraising show at our small church, Yeshua Reigns, in order to buy the marimbas. We finally managed to buy some instruments, and lessons started in 2018.

The general aim of this project is to aid the community of Dunoon by giving them the tools and expertise to build an active music academy, which will give students the opportunity and platform to learn to play an instrument, and, perhaps, to explore the opportunity of opting for music as a subject and a career.

With our aim being to introduce three music streams – Western art music (WAM), jazz and indigenous African music (IAM) – the marimba is a suitable gateway instrument to introduce to learners, and it will also stimulate interest in Western instruments.

My sons, Owethu and Zwide Ndwandwe, teach the instrument-playing. I do the vocals and manage the programme.

Where has the band played?

The band has not played outside the city of Cape Town. They have played at community and cultural events. They perform at school and city events, as well as private and corporate events.

They performed for the delegates from the city of Aachen and for the mayor of Cape Town, when they visited Dunoon. They played at the SABC auditorium in June 2018, collaborating with me in the live recording of our second album.

How does the project contribute to the well-being/development of generations to come?

It has been proven that exposing learners to the creative arts improves communication skills, teamwork, leadership skills, creative thinking and self-confidence, which ultimately improves their grades. This project also instils discipline, leadership, confidence and creativity in learners, so that they can take pride in their work and have goals for their lives. This is done to produce future leaders and trainers, who will duplicate this initiative elsewhere.

In order to promote nation-building, unity and cultural awareness among youth from diverse backgrounds (with our history of dividing people by race), I introduced an arts and culture exchange project between Elkanah House High School – a private school located in Sunningdale, in the affluent Blaauwberg area – and Inkwenkwezi High School, located in the impoverished Dunoon township.

Here, our learners meet and play together during cultural events. The two schools already had an existing relationship. I am part of the Elkanah House High School recycling team, which supplies the Inkwenkwezi/Dunoon Recycling Swop Shop with stock that is exchanged for recyclable material. Another private school in the same area of Blaauwberg, Parklands High School, also involves our band in their music events.

By bringing schools from two diverse community backgrounds, and sharing cultural experiences through the performing arts, we foster an exchange of learning experiences.

What are the biggest issues facing the youth in 2019?

Dunoon, like all other previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa, is faced with many challenges, including violence, lack of recourse, poor education, substance abuse, high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, absent fathers, poverty, high numbers of school dropouts, no recreational centres, and unemployment.

You are an artist yourself. Tell us a bit more about your background and your work.

I am a guitarist, a songwriter, a lead singer and the founder of a band called Mabongi Thusi & the Oaks, nominated three times for the Victory Awards.

This is a family band, consisting of my three talented sons – Owethu Ndwandwe (piano/keyboard), Zwide Ndwandwe (bass guitar) and Khanya Ndwandwe (lead guitar) – and me, a single, divorced mother, as the core band members.

Buro: MvH
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