Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrived in bright and breezy Cape Town on Wednesday morning, and if any spirits were lagging after the 11-hour night flight, a welcome-to-the-city performance by a traditional, brassy Kaapse Klopse band—this one called Happy Sounds Youth Development and comprising students from 12 to 18—helped to revive them.
Cape Town, perched between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, is the breathtakingly beautiful home to around 5 million people today; formerly it was home to one of the world’s most famous political prisoners, Nelson Mandela, who was incarcerated on Robben Island for nearly two decades. A group of 20-some musicians headed straight from the airport to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront for a tour of this site, a fitting start to the “Music for Mandela” tour.
A rocky 40-minute ferry ride delivered the musician tour group to the Island, which officially became a museum site in 1997. All visitors to Robben Island are greeted by a quote from freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada: “While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil, a triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness, a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness.”
-Jenna Ross, Star Tribune
Former political prisoners on Robben Island now serve as its tour guides, speaking first-hand about the cause they fought for and the living conditions they endured. Every tour ends with a humbling walk to the small cell that Nelson Mandela occupied in his time on the Island.
At the end of this sober visit, violist Sam Bergman posed a question to the tour guide, “When you were imprisoned here, did you have hope that the anti-apartheid struggle would eventually be won?” Without pausing, the former-prisoner-now-guide answered, “We knew we would win. We were fighting for a just and noble cause and that saw us through.”
From a story by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
This day that began in the Northern hemisphere ended with a flourish at Cape Town’s famed Gold Restaurant, which specializes in North African, sub-Saharan and Southern African foods, all accompanied by electrifying African drumming, dancing and singing. And so this music and cultural exchange has begun.
The house band at Cape Town's Gold’s restaurant performed for the @mn_orchestra tonight—and for one stowaway with a shaky camera hand and a hurricane of feelings just behind her sternum. What a glorious thing to do with a lungful of air. @classicalmpr #DessaInSAfrica pic.twitter.com/5AIGFEQAtP— Dessa (@dessadarling) August 8, 2018
Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson welcomed the assembled tour group by saying, “The world needs the music you make.”
"Put on your dancing shoes. Cape Town welcomes you!"
Thursday was a free day for Minnesota Orchestra musicians and a holiday—National Women’s Day—for the students of the Cape Music Institute but both Orchestra professionals and music students opted to forego a day-off for the chance to participate in a music exchange together.
"The students greeted the Brass Quintet with song, launching into "Welcome to Cape Town," a rollicking piece lauding the city, its people and its natural beauty."
-Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Faith Pretorius is an administrator at the Cape Music Institute, a professional school tucked into Athlone Stadium in Cape Town that offers both music and life training for super-talented 18 to 24-year-olds, many of whom come from challenging circumstances. “I tell the students that your gift cannot take you where your character cannot go,” Pretorius says.
In a crowded room—full of fellow students, administrators, and media—music students demonstrated that character, singing a joyful song, Ghoema-style.
Ghoema music, as one student explained, derives from a slave tradition, merging big band, jazz, calypso, reggae, San and Xhosa musical influences to create a totally unique, winsome sound. “Welcome to Cape Town,” the students sang. “Enjoy the party. Put on your dancing shoes. Cape Town welcomes you.”
The brass ensemble—Charles Lazarus, Douglas Carlson, R. Douglas Wright, Michael Gast and Steven Campbell—reciprocated with a little Bach, Piazzolla and Bernstein, which elicited raucous cheering from the students. “You are the best audience ever,” commented Doug Wright. “Does someone want to teach us this Ghoema piece?”
In a high point of the morning, the brass ensemble sight-read the swinging “Welcome to Cape Town” tune, flanked by student instrumentalists and vocalists who showed them the ropes. “There are no word to describe this,” said Pretorius. “We are a small school, a family, and students, you have made us proud today. Minnesota Orchestra musicians, thank you for empowering our students.”
The ensemble 29:11, which recently lit up the Twin Cities in a series of Minneapolis performances, includes many alumnae from the Cape Music Institute; this morning’s workshop concluded with a drop-in visit and performance from 29:11 of the moving Nkosi sikelel iAfrika. When asked about the impact of the day, Pretorius answered simply, “Music brings us together.”
These students and Orchestra musicians will come together again on Saturday in Elsie’s River township to perform their newfound shared song, “Welcome to Cape Town.”
Students and the Orchestra brass ensemble pose in front of Athlone Stadium, home of the Cape Music Institute, as well as two Cape Town Premier Soccer League teams.
Gusts of winter wind made performing a challenge at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront but these hardy brass players were not easily deterred. Gathering armfuls of sheet music that almost blew into the harbor, the musicians re-clipped the music to their stands and carried on.
The V&A Waterfront is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, even on a brisk winter day.
Photography by Travis Anderson. Follow along throughout the tour on our South Africa landing page.