The keys to success

2016-09-04 17:00
Sivuyile Jacu studies jazz piano at Esayidi College’s Gamalakhe campus

Sivuyile Jacu studies jazz piano at Esayidi College’s Gamalakhe campus

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Port Shepstone - Sivuyile Jacu is hunched over a piano in the prefabricated hut that serves as an ensemble room at Esayidi College’s Gamalakhe campus on a blazing hot Tuesday afternoon.

The tiny 21-year-old from KwaNzimakwe village near Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal hardly breathes as he works his way through the opening bars of Simphiwe Dana’s Ndiredi, his face a balance of concentration and pleasure.

Jacu gains momentum – and confidence – and starts riffing, filling the gaps in the sound, his hands picking up speed on the keys. The group of entry-level students seated at tiny desks in front of Jacu, a son of late Ladysmith Black Mambazo member Griffiths Mabuza Shushu, are silent. So too is piano instructor Barbara-Anne White, who has been teaching piano at the technical vocational education and training college for the past five years.

Jacu wraps up. Tenderly. The room erupts with applause. The youngsters in front pick up their practice keyboards and head off.

Jacu started at Esayidi as a sound engineering student, but decided to move to music after legendary jazz pianist Andile Yenana joined the staff as a music lecturer.

“I started studying sound engineering here. Then Mr Yenana came here to teach and I decided to move across to study jazz piano,” says Jacu.

“The course is amazing. I can’t believe that I’m being taught by a person who is a legendary musician. I’ve really learnt a lot. I’ve already been to Joburg and to Grahamstown,” he adds.

Last month, Jacu was the headline artist for the launch of the college’s radio and TV production division, the latest addition to the creative arts faculty, at the Desroches Hotel in Port Shepstone.

The Gamalakhe campus has about 1 000 students, 150 of whom are in the creative arts. Most of these students come from villages around Port Shepstone and Izingolweni, and from the Eastern Cape. Most stay on campus or board nearby and receive stipends from sponsors, many of whom place students as interns.

Department supervisor Zakhele Gumede, a former school arts teacher and cultural activist, says the idea of providing rural students with access to sellable skills in the creative arts industry was the brainchild of its rector, Sipho Nzimande.

Gumede says: “He is the person who has had the vision to provide rural youngsters with these skills, which they can use to make a living in the local hospitality industry and even beyond. We are able to provide training and place the students in jobs, learnerships and internships, so they are not forced to travel to Durban or Johannesburg.

“We have students who are already working as sound engineers, graphic artists and so on in the local hospitality industry. Others are being absorbed into local community radio stations. We are giving them skills that they can create careers with,” he says.

In the school’s sound studio, Xolisile Gcaba, 24, a college graduate who is now working as an intern, is in conversation with sound engineering lecturer Sandile Ngubane, who also runs a music label. He is best known for his production of DJ Bongz’ albums and has been working at Esayidi as an electronic music lecturer.

Gcaba, from Bhomela, a village inland from Port Shepstone, is excited. Under her stage name Vero, Gcaba is about to launch an album on Ngubane’s Showhouse Entertainment label.

“I’ve learnt so much here,” says Gcaba. “When I came here, I didn’t know anything. I only knew that I had a voice. Now I’m learning about the industry and about myself every day. I’m about to become a professional singer. Oh my, this has been such an experience.”

Gcaba is also grateful that she is already teaching others. “When I’m teaching, my stresses just disappear. It just brings me alive.”

Yenana, who started teaching at the college in September 2014, teachers vocal practice, arrangement, improvisation and piano.

On Tuesday, he’s also bent over a tiny piano, playing the opening stanza of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things while coaching his 11 voice students – nine girls and two boys – on where and how to come in.

Some get it more than others, but as Yenana works through the piece, a sense of flow and harmony develops from the immature voices. It’s beautiful, as is the valley in which Esayidi is located in the most rural part of Gamalakhe.

The students break into applause and laughter and shouts.

“This is a beautiful experience,” says Yenana. “I’ve always taught informally at home, but as I’m growing, I’m beginning to see that you need to formalise what you want to give to young people as well.

“It’s a different kind of discipline and an opportunity for me look at myself while helping others to grow. It draws you towards other things. Here I’m called ‘meneer’, ‘mister’, ‘mfundisi’; I’m like an uncle here, which requires another kind of growth,” he adds.

Yenana is well aware of the challenge of running a centre of artistic excellence in the middle of a rural area, but believes it is key to changing the lives of local people.

“It’s amazingly fulfilling, but scary at the same time,” he says. “There are challenges, but this is an opportunity to give people skills they can use. I’ve seen a young man come here who didn’t know what a piano looked like, and watched him learn and love that instrument. That is humbling.”

Read more on:    durban  |  music industry

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