Music connects people from all walks of life, cultures and generations, and anyone who doubts this need only meet the Delft Big Band.
Delft, like many other parts of the Cape Flats, is plagued by its fair share of social ills, but a music project in the community has given young people there a chance to escape the gravity of a fate mapped out for them by crime, poverty and apartheid.
The project was launched by the Department of Social Development and the NGO Cape Outdoor Adventure Service and Training (COAST) in 2008 under the leadership of Melkbosstrand resident, Ian Smith, one of South Africa’s most sought-after trumpet players who has shared the stage with musical legends such as Luciano Pavarotti, Liberace and Shirley Bassey.
Tabletalk met Ian at the Artscape theatre, where he spoke about how the Delft Big Band has grown since it was formed in 2008, as well as the metamorphosis he has witnessed as young men and women from a poor neighbourhood transform into professional musicians touring abroad.
“The idea,” Ian says, “was to start the programme and hand it over to the community. But I saw that it had to be sustained. There was immense talent.”
Even though he was teaching music to youngsters in venues with “terrible acoustics”, he believed so much in their talent he continued to fund the project out of his own pocket after the Department of Social Development eventually pulled out.
Ian found himself teaching music to 150 youngsters from Leiden, Rosendal and Voorbrug, all areas within Delft.
After a while, Leiden “fizzled out” as the area was too far from the venue provided for lessons.
Ian’s musical lessons are based on the Suzuki method, an internationally known method of teaching music with the belief that all people are capable of learning from their environment.
Ian’s lessons ranged from learning to read music notes to putting an instrument together. But he stresses the key to success is practice, and his students are allowed to take the instruments home to do just that.
“I believe anyone can learn an instrument if there are systems in place. Despite musicians getting the reputation of sex drugs and rock ‘n roll, it’s actually a very competitive industry, and people said to me, ‘You’re crazy, they’re going to lose the instruments. But I suppose you must have some faith in humanity, and we’ve been lucky that we’ve only ever lost one instrument,” he says.
Most of the instruments were bought with donations and state funding, only a few were donated.
Ian says as the programme shrank he was not only able to work with the most talented students but also saw the influence the minstrels had on them, leading them to be more interested in jazz. And over time, the group evolved from being a wind band to a big band.
Marcelle Adams was only 14 when he joined the band in 2008. Now 21, Marcelle is a professional trumpet player and works with artists such as Alistair Izobell.
“I heard about the lessons, and I always liked the sound of the trumpet, so I decided to join. I practised between four to five hours every day,” says Marcelle.
Now, eight years later, the band is a force to be reckoned with both locally and internationally.
Band members have toured Sweden, France and England.
They’ve performed at Liverpool’s Brouhaha International Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and the London Jazz Festival.
On the local front, the band performed at the 2015 Cape Town International Jazz Festival and Marcelle and another trumpeter, Lorenzo Blignaut, were selected to be part of the eight-piece Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band, which performed at the Joy of Jazz Festival in Gauteng last year.
Ian beams like a proud parent as he mentions the band’s many accolades, but he remains humble, shying away from taking too much of the credit for the band’s success.
“I’ve seen how people discriminate because they are kids from Delft, but I want people to understand that these are artists and must be treated with respect. But it is also up to them to act that way. I’ve learnt a lot of humility and empathy working with these kids.”