On stage with jazz’s greats

2020-01-28 06:01
The Wynberg Secondary School band with ESP Africa’s Craig Parks (middle row, far left). Next to him stand Corinne Becker of ESP Africa with Celest Moses-Toefy, the music teacher at the school. ESP Africa facilitator Lana Crowster (middle row, far right) stands next to Gavin Niewoudt, the school’s principal. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen

The Wynberg Secondary School band with ESP Africa’s Craig Parks (middle row, far left). Next to him stand Corinne Becker of ESP Africa with Celest Moses-Toefy, the music teacher at the school. ESP Africa facilitator Lana Crowster (middle row, far right) stands next to Gavin Niewoudt, the school’s principal. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen

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Of all the selfies Benjamin Lewis, a Grade 12 learner at Wynberg Secondary School, has taken in his life (and being a teenager, that’s a lot) the one he prizes most is the one of him with R&B/soul singer-songwriter Cory Henry.

Benjamin, thanks to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s (CTIJF) sustainable training and development programme, got to meet the American musician last year. He is hoping to meet his idol again when he performs with his school’s band at this year’s CTIJF free community concert.

“Meeting him was a dream come true. I’ve looked up to him for so many years; the way he incorporates the organ into all of the various genres he plays.”

This is the third time that Benjamin, the band’s guitarist and second keyboard player, has participated in the programme and he hopes to pursue a career in sound engineering and live performance next year.

“I have learnt a lot. The programme introduced me to the GarageBand app, to record and mix songs. I’m using the Logic X app at the moment,” he says.

His fellow Grade 12 learner and band member Kamvelihle Higa also can’t wait to share the stage with jazz legends.

The vocalist hopes she will have the chance to network with industry role players at the festival. Kamvelihle says the programme taught her that socialising is a big part of the music industry.

“I also learnt how to be myself on stage, how to connect with the crowd and to just have fun,” she says.

One of the things she likes most about performing live is the connection with the audience. “I can’t describe it; the transfer of energy. It is like electricity,” she says.

Asked what her future plans are, she says it has to be music, no matter what.

“The stage is my home. I feel comfortable there, more myself,” she says.

But she realises she will have to work hard to get there. “You can’t expect it to just come to you. You have to respect your craft, it must be what you believe in. You must fall in love with your music.”

This is the 10th official year ESP Africa, the producer of CTIJF, has held the programme with the support of the Western Cape Department of Education. It is open to learners in Grades 10, 11 and 12. Six schools, with an average of about 10 learners per school, are selected to participate in the programme which introduces young and upcoming musicians to all of the careers in the music industry.

Of these schools, one is chosen to perform at the following year’s free community concert. This year, the honour went to Wynberg Secondary School’s band.

Craig Parks, head of training and development at ESP, says they are very proud of the young musicians chosen to perform at this year’s free concert.

“They have shown outstanding dedication to the programme and have grown immensely under the mentorship of our facilitator Lana Crowster,” he says.

Lana, a full-time musician and the winner of the ESP Young Legends Competition in 2016, says the role of the facilitator is to give kids insight into the industry.

“We guide them through the process; how to deal with the media, how to put a set together – basically all those things they don’t show on TV,” she says.

For Lana, being a mentor to young musicians allows her to share her love for music.

“This is an amazing group of kids. They are so intuitive when it comes to music. They are only in high school but their natural ability is already there. It is like taking clay and moulding it. Everything they need, they already have. They just need mentoring – someone to tell them what to do with it,” she says.

The free concert’s date and venue will be announced in the second week of February.

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