Ubuntu!


At the end of the night tonight, one of our singers who's been on many tours said to Mr. Fitz, "this is the best day of tour I've ever had."

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Ubuntu is a South African word that means, "a person is a person through other people"." In other words, a human being cannot realize his humanity except through his relationships with other people - his family, his friends, his fellow choristers. A successful life has nothing to do with money, or fame, or individual achievement and everything to do with the people in our lives and how we care for them. Ubuntu is the credo upon which a South African lives his life. And this afternoon and this evening the boys got to experience ubuntu first hand.
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From the airport in Kimberley we went right to the Institute session going on at the Mayibuye Center in the township of Galeshewe, right outside the city of Kimberley. The sights, sounds, and smells of the township immediately came through the the windows of the bus and grabbed the boys' attention. The poverty is staggering, but more so is the unmistakable, irrepressible, contagious vibe of true community. This is a people that has very little in some ways, but in the most important ways, have everything. In a word, they have ubuntu.

When we reached the Mayibuye Center we joined the Institute Choir in singing the South African National Anthem, Nkosi Sikeleli. I looked on as many of the boys filled up with tears at the sound of the South African choir. So resonant, so powerful, the walls shake. It's not a sound one can describe. You have to hear it. We then went on to sing two of our songs together: El Yivneh and Hold Me Rock Me. We'll sing them together on Sunday at our joint concert. The South Africans love these two pieces - fascinated by the Hebrew, and captivated by the contemporary spiritual.
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We then went out side to an outdoor amphitheatre where some South Africans participating in the Institute taught us an entralling South African song. An entire doctorate dissertation could be done on how foreign it is for South Africans to break a song down and teach it. They don't talk about their music, rehearse it, analyze it. They just make it. Slowing it down for foreigners to pronounce the words, learn the notes, is a challenge. For example, the "sectional rehearsal" is unknown to them in the context of their folk music. Having one group work on the piece alone is antithetical to the concept of ubuntu. It breaks up the group and destroys the sense of community. They'd rather have everyone sing, and work out the lyrics and notes as they go. Of course, this approach is foreign to us in the West. We want to talk about it, dissect it, build it up slowly. So to see the styles of singing meet was great fun. Our boys were riveted by the process, and despite their jet lag, engaged the right side of their brains, and quickly became South African in their music making. Withing minutes they were singing and dancing a song they never heard before. It was sheer musical delight. The South Africans were charmed by their willingness to jump in, and impressed at their ability to run with it. But nothing could prepare the South Africans for when we broke out in our South African medley. Every South African within ear shot gathered round. The women began ululating - high pitched screams made with the tongue that some of our boys attempt when we sing our medley at home. That alone was worth the price of admission. And of course the South Africans sang along with us. No such thing as audience and performers. Ubuntu.

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We then all sat down for a catered dinner. We sang tour hymn for our cook Doria (she even looks a bit like our own snack Queen Doria!) and enjoyed her delicious meal of lamb curry, rice and fresh pumpkin.

From there we went off by bus deeper into the township to attend a rehearsal of the Galeshewe Marvelous Voices. As our bus pulled up we were greeted by a bunch of random boys on the street. They saw a tour bus and knew something was afoot. When they realized the bus was full of boys they began to shout out. They were determined to figure out what all these white faces were doing in the township so late. Out of nowhere, they broke out into Nkosi Sikeleli. As our boys got off the bus the township boys spontaneously shook their hands. (special South African handshake, on which all our boys are now fully versed) The boys followed us into the rehearsal. They were not invited or expected by Marvelous Voices, but were most welcome - ubuntu! At the rehearsal, both choirs and the township boys sang another rousing performance of Nkosi Sikeleli. We then formed a huge circle around the room and sang (not learned!) another thrilling South African folk song. As tired as our boys were, each of their faces were lit. The glow was undeniably that of ubuntu.
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As our bus pulled away, the township boys chased us, waving as we went. We arrived at St. Cyprians Cathedral where we met our homestays. The families received the boys with open arms. South Africans are very hospitable. Your sons are in good hands.

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A great first night. The boys will sleep soundly after their long journey and a musically rich but emotionally-draining evening. Another wonderful day awaits them. And we look forward to our younger trebles joining us. They'll experience the same warmth and joy of the township. And finally the KSB Tour Choir will be whole. Ubuntu!