Soweto Strings is the name of a documentary film directed by Mark Kidel, and it was first shown in 2007. I had the pleasure of seeing it just last week as the The Watershed, Bristol were showing it again.
It is a moving, yet quite basic piece of film about a charitable project in the South African township Soweto, which offers children and young adults the chance to learn and become accomplished in a range of string instruments. The film specifically followed Rosemary Nalden who founded the music school in Soweto. Nalden is herself an experienced musician and has been running the school teaching some incredibly disadvantaged children, and giving them a wonderful gift for over 15 years now.
Although the film can’t deny that life is tough in the township, it doesn’t spend too long dwelling on the negatives of their life, but instead explores what draws the students to step outside their normal lives and enter the music school. Some of the children literally wandered in alone, and sat for weeks just listening to other children playing, before getting the opportunity to even touch an instrument themselves. It is refreshing to be shown a version of Africa that is focussing on the talent that is naturally within people. I became emotionally drawn to them, not because of pity, but because of awe in their pure enjoyment of creating exceptional music. Nalden really makes the children work for what they want, just as you would have to in any country, she just gives them a launch pad and lights the way.
Soweto Strings also follows a couple of the key success stories, of particularly talented individuals, one of whom gained scholarships to study music elsewhere. Also a trip for a smaller group of the musicians to travel to France to perform.
Being able to see the faces of the individuals as they create such exquisite sounds, both classical european music and some more modern African compositions, it seemed that they might burst in to song at any one point. As though the sound coming out of the instrument were pulling on something deep inside. Watching in such close up was the most fascinating part of the way this film was shot. A big screen, just filled by the face of a musician lost in notes.
It was also interesting to try to understand Nalden’s drive to keep working out there, although the film didn’t explore her experience of going to Africa to begin with. It must have been a huge change. Now she seems totally at ease and comfortable in her surroundings, she knows how to encourage and get the best out of the children.
The Watershed chose to show the film as the Buskaid Soweto Strings Ensemble are coming to St Georges Hall on Friday 11th July. I highly recommend getting tickets, it will be a performance you won’t be able to forget, beautiful, heartfelt music that is changing lives.
You can support the Buskaid Project in Soweto by buying their CDs via their website.