South Africa Tour blog

Day 6: Last Concert in South Africa

Part 1: Leap Maths and Science

Sawubona! My name is Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa. I am a member of the Great Class of 2014 and former Glee Club President. I am thrilled to be on this tour and to share one of many magical experiences with you.

Two days ago, while waiting for our luggage at the carousel at Cape Town Airport, I heard a woman speaking Shona, my mother tongue. i was so excited to hear somebody from Zimbabwe that I greeted her and began a conversation. This woman, Dorothy Mutambara, is an educationalist who works for LEAP Maths and Science, a six-campus school breaking the poverty-cycle by educating and nurturing emotionally, intellectually and academically excellent students from difficult backgrounds throughout South Africa.

Our time in South Africa has been a time of glorious music-making and social revelation. We visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and Robben Island here in Cape Town. It is very clear that South Africa is a young nation with much ground to cover in terms of economic, emotional and mental freedom for its black-majority population. As a Southern African with much personal investment in the future of our continent I had many questions as to what steps in the positive direction could be. My serendipitous meeting with Aunty Dorothy was the beginning of an answer. 

I traveled with a group of twelve Glee Clubbers to the LEAP campus in Langa Township. The campus is for students grades 8 through 12. I went into the experience with an open heart and mind, expecting to share my experiences and of course, music. When we arrived at the campus and attended the weekly assembly called community, it was clear that we were the ones who were on the receiving end. The students shared music, dance, song and stories with us. I was in awe of the freedom, brilliance and excellence before me. The school is run by a 25 year old woman who serves as its principal. She is a graduate of the LEAP program which instills in its students a sense of agency, self-awareness, consciousness, service and family. We were led by the students, the assembly was led by the students, and all our questions were eloquently answered by the students. It was very clear that they own their positions as leaders of the community.

We sat in with the 9th graders during their Life Orientation (LO) class. It was here that we met John Gilmore, the founder of LEAP. John said, “I was born in 1959 during apartheid and I was very aware of my privileges as a white man. But because of my faith, I knew something was not right. So as I came to consciousness I had to learn and unlearn prejudices and biases I had adopted. That was my LEAP.” John spoke passionately about the school’s mission to nurture intellectual development and emotional development in its students, teachers and community. Life Orientation is a time when students and teachers sit and reflect with one another by creating a safe space with a foundation of respect and honesty shared in love. It is structured time at the beginning of the day where students and teachers deal with their emotions. Peers point out the strengths and weaknesses of their classmates and any issues (be it in the classroom or in relationships e.g. teacher-student) are talked through during that time. What I encountered today was the most emotionally advanced group of 9th graders I have ever met. The students and teachers speak of each other as family and they all LEAP together. 

I was deeply moved by the emotional maturity of these students who come from the townships and live the LEAP philosophy which says, “There is nothing wrong with you. You are powerful, you are beautiful and you are this nation’s solution.” i thought back to Princeton’s racial tension in 2015 with the rise of the Black Justice League and other student efforts to shed light on the distance Princeton has yet to cover in terms of racial understanding and true community. I hope that as a Princeton community, we will learn from these 9th graders by embracing one another in respect and love and by taking a LEAP to be intellectually and emotionally developed beings in the service of one another.

Part 2: Concert with Igugu Lekapa

This part is written by Varshini Narayanan, a soprano in the Class of 2016.

Perhaps the only predictable part of this trip has been the recurring experience of being constantly humbled. After being completely blown away by the insightfulness, maturity, and musicality of the students at the LEAP school, I assumed I had already received my daily dosage. Following our morning off, however, we traveled to Gugulethu to perform our final concert with a local church choir. We were treated to a pre-concert workshop with their director, Phumi Tsewu, with whom we continued to work on making our South African song, Imfundo, as authentic as possible -- no pressure, but performing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo next month does raise the stakes a bit! We also found out about a very exciting opportunity to make national waves soon. Stay tuned.

I've been absolutely in awe every time we've been able to listen to local choirs perform. The fullness, the depth, the power of these voices! I'll never forget their rendition of a song from Die Fliedermaus performed in the local South African language, Xhosa. There's something very special about hearing opera that rivals anything I've seen at the Met performed at a tiny community center in the middle of an impoverished rural village. It makes you rethink everything you think you know about art, knowledge, beauty. And to be quite honest, it makes us better singers - we've been able to channel the energy and passion of the singers and audiences we've met into our own music making, resulting in some of the most memorable and genuine performances I've been a part of in my four years with this group. I'm doing my best to forget how little time we have left here!