Visiting Ntonga Music School In Gugulethu South Africa

Everything started with a photograph. In August 2006, the PFC crew touched down in Cape Town, South Africa, while recording the first chapter of the “Songs Around the World.” PFC co-founder, Mark Johnson, had something in mind: he wanted to meet with a musician called Pokie Klaas. For years he had a photo on his wall, showing musicians in the township of Gugulethu playing together. The photo mentioned Pokie Klaas’s name and we decided to find out if those musicians were still there. During our first day in Cape Town, we met some street musicians and asked them, “Do you know Pokie Klaas?” One of them answered, “Yes of course, Pokie is my friend.” 24 hours later, we were heading to the township of Gugulethu, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Cape Town, to meet with Pokie.

The afternoon spent in Pokie’s backyard recording him and his friends was one of the most incredible days in our lives, where we could see how music has the power to bring joy into the most desperate situations. After a few minutes of music in the backyard, everything had changed: people were now dancing and smiling, demonstrating the healing power of music. (Click here to watch a video we recorded that day.) Two years later, the first music school of the Playing For Change Foundation was built in this same backyard and today, the school is playing a significant role in bringing positive change to this area that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten.

I really have no words to describe my feelings six years after this unforgettable day; to see some of the kids playing music with such passion at the school and wanting to become professional musicians, to see our teachers and Pokie himself making a difference for their community through this music school.One of the most special days at the school during the last days of my recent visit was the workshop we organized on Congolese music, featuring Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo from the Playing For Change Band. The idea was to introduce Congolese music to the students of Gugs’ (this is how you say Gugulethu if you want to be cool!) and teach them some basics of this beautiful and powerful music. After five minutes, the “fire” was already in the house and Mermans and Jason were directing the students to play a Congolese tune on different instruments: drumset, bass, guitar, saxophones and even got our kids to sing in Lingala.After this moment of joy and jamming, Mermans and Jason sat on a chair and started to tell their story; how they left the Congo for South Africa more than ten years ago because of the war, and started to play a couple of acoustic songs to the captivated young audience.

The Ntonga Music School needs your support to grow and demonstrate that music can be the tool of a positive social change for underprivileged communities.


Playing for Change Foundation website

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More photos of Ntonga Music School on Flickr