When Nomthandazo Solomon was growing up, she wanted to be a nurse or a social worker. She always cared about the health and social being of other people from a very young age. For some strange reasons, things took a slightly different turn and she ended up studying music. Upon completion of her music studies, friends and peers expected her to look for a recording deal. Instead she looked for a school that would allow her to teach music to the learners.
At the More Than 3 Faces which marked Sibongile Khumalo’s 60th birthday, Nomthandazo and her learners performed on the first of the three nights that honoured and celebrated one of the best female jazz musicians in South Africa. Sibongile Khumalo told the audience about the great yet unnoticed work that Nomthandazo is doing at the Ezibeleni Special School which is based in Katlehong.
“Sibongile and I come a long way. When I started singing, she was one of the people that trained me”, she tells Marabi Jazz Lounge. Nomthandazo has a Bachelor of Music Degree which she obtained from the University of Natal, now renamed UKZN. She would become Sibongile’s understudy when she performed songs composed by the late Professor Khabi Mngoma.
She was trained in classical music at the university and is Head of Department (HOD) for music at Ezibeleni Special School. When Sibongile was making preparations for the More Than 3 Faces, she asked Nomthandazo if her learners can be part of the event. “It was an honour”, she said. Learners will put their performance at the event on their CV’s. They certainly performed with confidence.
Nomthandazo grew up in White City Jabavu in Soweto. “As a trained musician, one must be able to perform any music genre”, emphasizing that she has also been exposed to a lot of jazz since becoming an educator. Pianist and keyboard player Yonela Mnana is a colleague of Nomthandazo at Ezibeleni. She has been at the school for 15 years and specialises in voice training.
Even though Ezibeleni is a school for the physically challenged learners, her music programme caters for kids from other schools in the Katlehong including some young adults who have an interest in singing. The learners get trained in jazz and classical music to prepare them for the future as professional musicians. For Nomthandazo, learners are top of her priority and has no intention of leaving for the recording industry. Some of the learners from disjointed families are staying in her house.
Asked what criteria is used to select learners for the programme, she said: “There’s no criteria as such. This programme is run by the Department of Basic Education. We don’t do auditions because they often disadvantage some learners”. They take every child that is willing to be part of the programme.
Despite several challenges they face at school which include lack of funding, Nomthandazo and her team are optimistic that what they do will produce future musicians. “It’s those learners. It’s a calling. Arriving at the school premises every day and see those learners fulfils me”, narrating the story to Marabi Jazz Lounge. This programme also rescues learners from possibly being involved in drugs through music.
Their biggest requirement should they get funding would be to purchase music instruments. “Learners don’t have instruments”, looking very concerned. “We want to grow the project into something bigger”, emphasizing how passionate she is about what they do. Most of the learners they have at the school are from disadvantaged backgrounds and the only meal of the day they receive is at the school.
As a school, they are grateful for the funding they received from Ekurhuleni Metro which they used to assist matriculants with registering at tertiary institutions. The funding is also used as a feeding scheme to learners that are part of the programme. A few music instruments were also received as part of the funding which led to the creation of a small studio for the learners.
Unfortunately, not all the parents around the school give support to the programme. “Some parents don’t understand the importance of arts and how it can be a career for the learners to embark on. Many people don’t understand how a musician makes a living”, expressing her concern to Marabi Jazz Lounge.
She doesn’t want to classify the music she teaches. “I want learners to listen to that inner voice and take the music to the next level”, she said. Nomthandazo does not want learners to restrict themselves as they learn music. Restoring confidence on her learners is something that is very close to her heart.
The school is located next to a very busy intersection at Katlehong. Marabi Jazz Lounge visited the school to see how the learners and educators interact in the programme. Learners are in high spirit getting ready for the daily practice. Instruments are nicely packed at the music room. Yonela Mnana is playing a tune and is asking the learners to sing to his melody and they do as asked. Nomthandazo is telling them to raise their voices a bit.
Mnana is very patient with the learners and asks them about the part they find it most difficult in the song they practice. While they are practicing, four adults are waiting outside this class room. They have come to make an enquiry about the programme. Nomthandazo gives them a date where she will be able to give them a detailed explanation of how the programme is run.