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.