- The Ndlovu Youth Choir is back on South African soil and is working hard to produce new music.
- Conductor Ralf Schmidt says the choir hopes its new song We Will Rise inspires the nation.
- They fondly speak of their time on America's Got Talent when Simon Cowell promised their lives would change forever.
The Ndlovu Youth Choir caught the attention of the world on America's Got Talent (AGT) in 2019. Back on South African soil, the group is working on a new album and putting in hours of practice for a virtual concert on Mandela Day on 18 July.
Choir members Sandile Majola and Rachel Ntobeng, and conductor Ralf Schmidt, joined Channel24 for a quick Zoom catch-up.
Seeing Sandile and Rachel on his screen, Ralf immediately reacts with joy, waving as he joins the video call. The choir has become like family, and spending time apart during the lockdown isn't easy.
"We still don't believe that this is happening to us," Sandile tells me, adding that the choir "still had plans" for the year and a number of shows lined up. But his disappointment is quickly followed by a bout of optimism: "But hey, this happened. We just have to learn to live with it and find new exciting things to do during this time."
It's this positive spirit that Ralf believes sets the group apart from most others.
"That spirit of resilience, that spirit of beating the odds that got them to where they were in the first place, that seems to be carrying them through this, while the rest of us are developing that spirit, these Ndlovu singers already have it. And it's actually beautiful to see how they've responded."
With all the necessary protocols in place, the choir has been able to rehearse together and even create new music. The choir's upcoming single, We Will Rise, is filled with hope and encouragement for South Africans as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
"We will rise out of this. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Ralf says. He also adds that the track, which he wrote alongside Sandile and other members of the choir, was dedicated to the entertainment, hospitality, and creative industries, which suffered a massive blow during the crisis.
The song will be performed as part of the group's livestream for Mandela Day on Saturday. The event will be broadcast online and the choir will perform uninterrupted for 67 minutes.
To Rachel, a massive part of the performance is the choreography, which the choristers developed themselves. She beams when she tells me about it. "You should see it. That's what we love the most."
If you're wondering what the concert will be like, Ralf has the perfect description.
"If an alien came to earth and asked me: 'What is South Africa?' I will say: 'Watch that show. That is South Africa.' The joy, the spirit, the energy. We're going to hope to capture the South African spirit and package it into 67 minutes of beauty."
We Will Rise will also feature on the Ndlovu Youth Choir's upcoming album. Though I try to squeeze some info out of Ralf, he can't say too much about the project. He does, however, tell me that they're trying to get some huge names on board.
"We really are working together with Sony Music and Syco on some really exciting international collaborations."
Syco, of course, is Simon Cowell's record label which the group has joined.
Ralf recalls working on America's Got Talent with Simon and how the British star would treat them with the utmost respect.
"He's genuinely such a good oke. He greeted each chorister individually. I was lucky enough to stand next to him during AGT every time I conducted. I always said I had the best seat in the house because, by that time, the choir was so trained they didn't really rely on me for anything. He would wish me luck before every performance. He really is a very cool guy and was very kind and caring towards us."
Most notably, according to Ralf, Simon kept the promise that he made at their final performance.
"I think at the last show he said: 'I can promise you, your life will change.' And he's done that. He was true to his word. He signed us and [has] given us a platform to release our music and share our art."
Tickets for the Ndlovu Youth Choir's Mandela Day livestream are available at Computicket. The funds raised will go towards charity.