A Tour of Inspiration and Connection
Artvark South Africa Tour 5-15 April 2019
A story by Sandra Gevaert – manager Artvark Saxophone Quartet
Traveling is a great way to be in the present moment and to go with the flow of whatever happens to you. Our South Africa tour created time and space for us to unwind, share our music to new audiences and at the same time to open up to a new world. A beautiful country with many colorful and inspiring people that is also teared apart by their differences and violent history. By letting go of our own habits and expectations we were able to tune into local life and to connect to local habits and needs. We are very spoiled by our luxury lives in Europe and have lost a great part of our ability to adjust to different realities and situations. Speaking for myself, it always makes me ashamed ànd grateful for everything we take for granted in the Netherlands. Like our freedom, safety, wealth and well-being. We never have to worry about our basic needs for food, shelter and safety. Music connects people and worlds. By bringing our music to the people we met we could experience our connectedness beyond all our differences. It was such a pleasure to collaborate with all these kids, teachers, musicians, bookers, organisers, entrepreneurs and university staff. Together we created a flow of joy and positivity that nourished us all. In particular at the schools and universities we have seen the new South Africa in the making and it makes me happy to see these kids being open, equal and inclusive to one another. They are the future of South Africa and need all our support to create their own future!
On Friday 4th of April 2019 we arrived in Cape Town for a 10-day tour in South Africa. We started the next morning with our first workshop and concert in Gugulethu township. A dear Artvark friend, Maria Kint, has worked in many townships for more than 20 years through her organization Cultural Development Trust (CDT). She connected us to a local dancer and entrepreneur called Theo Ndindwa, who runs Ikapa Dance Theatre in BONGA primary school in Gugulethu. His organization is offering kids opportunities to develop themselves and create a new future. See www.ikapadancetheatre.co.za
He has been trained by Maria’s CDT and has created a wonderful space at the school premises for kids to learn and practice dance. For the Artvark workshop he invited his own students and more kids through the tutory classes of Young Minds. Over 100 kids showed up with their dedicated group leaders. The result was an amazing interactive play in which the kids clapped rhythms, sang jazzy sounds, danced and orchestrated the band. Inviting them to join in and participate was never so easy and fun for us!
Have a look at this video to get an impression:
After the workshop we witnessed the students and their teacher Nqaba Mafilika creating a new dance to perform during the Artvark concert later that day. After not more than an hour of rehearsal they were ready to perform! In the meantime, Theo took good care of us and brought us with the kids to a park in Gugulethu, where we talked and played football with some of the local kids. We were a novelty in the park and at the same time we felt very at ease through the openness of the kids and the easy way of connecting that we experienced. Some older people and parents also started to come closer out of curiosity for these ‘white’ people with their saxes. When the concert started a nice crowd had gathered and was showing their appreciation for the music. Slowly the dancers started to dance, first an improvised dance of Nqaba and after that the kids joined him and they performed the dance they created earlier that day. It was a wonderful experience to be in close contact and performing together with the local kids in a place and country where this is hardly ever happening.
At the end of the afternoon our driver picked us up at the park. Although he was reluctant to do so he managed to find us and we hope he will carry this positive experience with him. By talking to white South Africans, we learned they don’t go to Gugulethu as they feel not welcome or even threatened. We want to share our story to show a different reality and invite people to go there and support the positive developments that people like Ngaba and Theo are working so hard for.
That same afternoon only two hours later we arrived in Kalk Bay, a ‘hippie town’ on the south side of Cape Town, where we entered a different world. We played in the Olympia Bakery, a fantastic space where they bake bread during the day and transform the place into a concert venue at night. A local Englishman called Paul Kahanovitz with a passion for jazz has started his business Slow Life in Kalk Bay. Paul organized two gigs for us in unorthodox places like this bakery and the next day in Cape Town’s old theatre The Labia. These extraordinary locations attract a very diverse and passionate audience and we truly enjoyed playing there. We even attracted people that heard us play while they went to the bathroom of the restaurant in the front of the bakery. They came to our show the next evening in The Labia Theatre.
After Cape Town we continued our tour to East London, Stutterheim, Durban and finished off in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Everywhere we came we met old friends, made new friends and enjoyed the openhearted joyfulness of the African people. We played with the Stirling High School Big Band in East London and enjoyed the talents and boldness of the kids. Their teachers were so happy they couldn’t resist getting their instruments and joining us to play! The concert hall was full of parents, family and friends and they all went mad when they witnessed their kids performing so well. It was a true pleasure for all of us. The selfie shoots at the end with every kid and here with the entire group, demonstrated the bonding that took place between the four Artvarkens and the kids they worked with.
It was wonderful to be part of the Stirling High Big Band in East London! Instead of teaching in a masterclass format, we exchanged ideas about timing, sound and tuning by doing it, playing music, side by side with the students. And most of all we celebrated music together, it was a great concert!
In Johannesburg we were invited to play at Wits University with our dear friend Karendra Devroop & Band in a program he created about Sophia town. Sophia town was a legendary black cultural hub that was destroyed under Apartheid and rebuilt as a whites-only area called Triomf and in 2006 officially returned to its original name. Sophia town was one of the oldest black areas in Johannesburg and its destruction represents some of the excesses of South Africa under Apartheid. Despite the violence and poverty, it was the epicenter of politics, jazz and blues during the 1940s and 1950s. It produced some of South Africa’s most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. When Artvark played a few of their own compositions the young audience were supporting and joining us with loud yells and sounds of appreciation.
It was heartwarming and intense to experience how the audience responded to our music, both young and older and of all different backgrounds. I experienced a feeling as if they never saw and heard something like this before. We felt connected in a beautiful way.
We are very grateful to everyone who has made this tour possible. We want to thank in particular UNISA professor Karen Devroop. The whole tour started with his invitation to play at the UNISA festival. He and his staff, especially Kgomotso Boshielo, have been very helpful in arranging everything for us during this weekend. They also provided us with contacts in other cities to arrange a full tour. Many thanks to everyone else who contributed to make this tour possible. By generously sharing their contacts , creating opportunities for us to play and organizing the many practicalities needed. We want to thank: Paul Kahanovitz – Slow Life Cape Town, Diane Rossi of SAJE, for introducing us to Paul, Ingrid Newbold-Schoen – The Manderson Hotel Stutterheim for generously lodging us for free, Lyndon Hall – SADS Theatre Stutterheim, Alan Webster – Stirling High School East London, Thulile Zama – University of Kwazulu Natal Durban, Carlo Mombelli – Bassist/composer & Associate Professor of Music at Wits University Johannesburg, Maria Kint who arranged the Gugulethu contacts for us and Ikapa dance entrepreneur and teacher Theo Ndindwa & Nqaba Mafilika together with the kids and group leaders of Young Minds. And last but not least we want to thank the Dutch Performing Arts Fund for funding our traveling costs and Daniel Smit, Senior Policy Officer for Culture at the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria for supporting us in every way he could.