Bringing SA together with song

2015-07-20 10:56
Sharon Katz, the musician behind the Peace Train and the choral production When Voices Meet.

Sharon Katz, the musician behind the Peace Train and the choral production When Voices Meet. (Supplied)

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IN an era where strict racial segregation and oppression plunged South Africa into intolerance, conflict and civil unrest, hundreds of voices joined in a united call for peace.

When Voices Meet documents one woman’s journey to bring about change in apartheid South Africa through the universal language of music.

The film, which makes its world premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) on July 22, will also be screened at festivals in America.

“We’re so excited to announce that When Voices Meet, the film about our work in South Africa to help spread Nelson Mandela’s vision has already been selected to screen at five film festivals,” says musician Sharon Katz, the woman behind the Peace Train musical movement that inspired the film.

It will have its American premiere at the World Music an Independent Film Festival in Washington DC in August and will then be screened at the Depth of Field International Film Festival in Nassau, Delaware; the Middleburgh Library in New York; the Jersey City International Television and Film Festival and the Teaneck International Film Festival in New Jersey.

When Voices Meet reflects on The Peace Train through the experiences of those at the centre of the historic movement that defied the racial segregation of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Growing up in her white neighbourhood in Port Elizabeth, Katz had an overwhelming curiosity about the lives of black South Africans in townships living a vastly different existence to that of hers and other white South Africans.

It was only a matter of time before she defied racial segregation, venturing into black communities where she engaged with black children through music.

“These children, who had never seen electricity, didn’t have running water and barely had any food to eat, were so happy.

“The smiles on their faces said a lot about how the human spirit can triumph over very difficult circumstances if there is music,” Katz recalls. The encounter set Katz on a journey that would shake the very foundation of the country’s apartheid regime.

“Mandela had just been released from prison and I was inspired to do something that had never been done before; unite children from all racial groups into one huge choir to blend our voices together to express optimism and hope for the future of our country,” Katz said.

The idea of staging the production When Voices Meet meant that children of every race group, who had previously never encountered each other, would be able to come together on one stage.

“When we entered that rehearsal we were shocked, … I’d never seen such a variety of coloured skins, all in the same place at the same time,” said choir member Priya Shukla.

“Some of the lyrics were sung in Zulu and we even had Zulu songs sung by white kids. That was when we realised that they were just like us,” adds another member, Msizi Luthuli.

When Voices Meet became so successful and widely publicised that its popularity spurred a nationwide concert tour.

“Following the success of the first show it struck me, we needed to take this message across the country. Thus, The Peace Train was born,” explained Katz.

“We needed to travel by train because there was no bus big enough to transport 500 children. There was violence all over South Africa, people were fighting and the old government liked it that way.”

Each compartment contained mixed groups of youngsters representative of the new South Africa; and at each stop along the route, the group performed their concert, encouraging people of all races, cultures, ages and political affiliations with their message of unity and peace.

• When Voices Meet will be screened at Suncoast CineCentre at 6 pm on July 22, the Dennis Hurley Centre at 2 pm on July 23, and at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at UKZN at 6.30 pm on July 24. — Arts Editor

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