In 2017, a Hout Bay resident by the name of Tanya Blacher decided to start a social initiative to improve the lives of people living in Imizamo Yethu. At the time, widespread shack fires had devastated the township. In an effort to uplift and provide some relief to the community, the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir was formed.
Six years ago Blacher moved to Hout Bay, from London. She says that after moving here, she began to notice the strength of the African coral tradition and how stunning the singing was. “At the same time I was struck, as everyone is when they move here, by the inequality and the poor living conditions of people in the townships, our local one being Imizamo Yethu,” she says.
Combining these two thoughts, Blacher wondered why Hout Bay didn’t have a choir – the market for it was there and people who belonged to the choir would make some extra money from it. Instead of trying to uplift the community by providing them with new skills, she thought it would be a better idea to take existing skills in the community and market them. And so the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir was born.
Auditions were held and members were chosen. “We held open auditions and the standard was amazing! It’s quite competitive,” says Blacher.
At present, there are 22 members in the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir, with ages ranging from 18 to 40. Singing for the choir is not all that the members do. Most have jobs (including a petrol pump attendant, a teaching assistant, and a community worker) and others are in high-school or are pursuing a tertiary education.
In fact, most of the members have no formal musical training. However, Blacher says “many have been in choirs previously, often connected to the church – and as is the way in this community, have been singing one way or another all their lives.”
The choir also has two conductors, Zamile Gantana and Samukelo Mhlongo, who are professionally trained performers.
Choir members have developed extensively in their musical ability since joining the group and have been exposed to professional skills such as marketing and digital media.
The establishment of the choir has done a lot for the community thus far. Members have been able to help their families using the income they generate through the choir. They are booked for weddings, private events, in addition to a few annual concerts.
Members have also had opportunities to travel and see places they would not otherwise have been exposed to. In addition, Blacher says: ” Everyone in Imizamo Yethu knows the Ingoma Choir and feels proud – especially when we appeared on Expresso TV last year as backing vocalists for popstar Majozi!”
The goals of the choir, according to Blacher “are to celebrate African choral music, and to help people develop both musically and personally/professionally”.
“My dream would be to take the choir to tour in UK / Europe and use that as an opportunity to shine a light on both the beauty of the music and the continuing hardships endured by most urban Africans in this country,” she adds.
Eventually, she would also like to establish a junior choir or a singing academy or choir school.
Their upcoming summer concerts are on February 6, at the Centre for the Book in central Cape Town and on February 20, at La Cuccina in Hout Bay. Tickets are available via webtickets.
The choir have just released a 5-minute documentary made by a young British film maker: