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Amisi ‘Coco’ Mubale came to South Africa with only a dream.
He is one of the teachers at the Outreach Foundation’s Music Centre in the heart of Hillbrow.
Coco, as he is affectionately known, came to the country in 2001 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
He sought asylum from the war.
“The only way to escape from being in the military was to run away,” he told News24.
“In a sense it was stopping people from realising their dreams,” he explained.
His permit did not allow him to study or work but all he wanted to do was pursue a career in music.
Fast forward 17 years, and Coco has just completed his Grade 8 exams in the theory and practical of music with the University of SA (Unisa) – Grade 8 being the highest qualification attainable.
Coco joined the piano class at the music centre in 2009.
“I was happy to be doing something,” he said.
The 44-year-old said he always had a passion for music.
“My parents said I started singing when I was two years old. They told me that I used to wake them up with my singing,” Coco recalled.
He said he was inspired by Congolese music and still worked it into his compositions.
Coco frequently broke into song as the interview continued and went on to play a tune from renowned composer Mozart.
He said he was grateful to the founders of the music centre.
“If it was not for this centre, I’m not sure I could have made it by myself.”
The foundation funded his studies and he now passes on his knowledge to the youth of Hillbrow and surrounds.
The Hillbrow Music Centre was founded in 1999 to fill the gap in extra-curricular activities in a community notorious for drugs and crime.
It offers lessons in violin, cello, marimba and the clarinet mainly to youth between the ages of 12 and 19.
The music centre is one of the many programmes the Outreach Foundation runs, including judo and drama workshops.
The foundation describes itself as a project that “aims to keep children and youth off the streets and provide them with activities that support their holistic development.”
Ute Smythe, a violin teacher who has been with the centre since its conception, said she hoped the centre would grow.
“Instruments like the violin, the cello and clarinet, they play in an orchestra … I want them to grow so we can some day present an orchestra,” she said.
Sbahle Vezi(yellow dress) with her cast form the Rand Tutorial College, performs during the Inner city performing art competition at the Hillbrow theatre. Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English
“Without stories, we don’t know who we are as a nation.”These are the words of Modisana Mabale, a facilitator for the winning play at the Inner-city High Schools Drama Festival, which ended on Saturday.
Pupils from Isizwe-Setjhaba Secondary School in Vereeniging lifted the trophy after they were crowned the winners at the 14th annual event held at the Outreach Foundation Hillbrow Theatre in Joburg under the theme “African Futures”.
Project co-ordinator Thabang Phakathi said the theme was aimed at giving participants the opportunity to engage, investigate, research and unpack various ideas and stories that spoke to them.
“The Outreach Foundation provides a platform to showcase the talents of the learners. It also instills discipline and leadership – they have to engage in an active way while they create the play together,” Mabale said.
“They learn to trust each other. Whether the learners are going to be a doctor or a nurse, they learn about creativity, about life. It is time for parents to take their children to theatre and to tell stories.”
Phakathi said that when the festival started in 2005, there were only six schools from the inner-city participating.
He said that over the years, schools from various areas, including Vaal, Soweto, Ekurhuleni and Alexandra, showed interest in participating in the event.
This year, there were 42 schools showing off their talent. The schools had to produce a 30- to 35-minute piece for the festival to showcase their talent to patrons and judges, including veteran actors Mpho Molepo, Baby Cele and Isibaya telenovela actor Bongani Gumede.
Cele said the judges had seen amazing work on stage.
“It is amazing how these kids, when given a chance, can create and perform their wonderful stories on stage,” Cele said.