South African Singers Adapt to COVID-19 by Making New Music

    25 June 2020

    The streets of rural South Africa are far from the bright lights of American television, but that is where members of the Ndlovu Youth Choir find themselves during the coronavirus health crisis.

    With a mix of song and dance moves, the choir earned the right to compete in the finals of the "America's Got Talent" television show last year. After that, the group performed at sold-out shows across the United States and Europe. It also signed a recording contract.

    In this handout photo provided by Ndlovu Youth Choir and taken March 2019, chorus members pose for a selfie in Los Angeles. (Ralf Schmitt/Ndlovu Youth Choir via AP)
    In this handout photo provided by Ndlovu Youth Choir and taken March 2019, chorus members pose for a selfie in Los Angeles. (Ralf Schmitt/Ndlovu Youth Choir via AP)

    But the disease COVID-19 stopped the group's travels. Its members returned to Moutse Valley in the South African province of Limpopo, one of the country's poorest areas.

    "We were supposed to go to Germany for a performance, but it got canceled. We are used to touring the world, doing shows everywhere, and during this corona time it's been very difficult," said Sandile Majola, a member of the choir and its manager.

    The virus has created new risks for singing together, but this is not stopping the young singers.

    The group was formed in 2008 to help orphans and children of people with HIV/AIDS, said Hugo Tempelman, a Dutch doctor. Thirty years ago, he started a medical center that has become a neighborhood development project, the Ndlovu Care Group.

    The project has more than 600 families, with none headed by adults. The oldest child was in charge, he said.

    "We tried to assist those kids with food programs and tried to give them a more resilient way of surviving, through life skills," Tempelman said.

    He saw a bigger need for the children's future.

    "When I saw the kids go home, I still didn't see a smile. And I thought that if we want to provide hope, we must give them something that they can be proud of," he said.

    So, he came up with the idea of forming a youth choir.

    "You start a choir, because Africa sings," he said. "Africa sings everywhere. They sing at a funeral; they sing at a birth."

    In 2016, the choir's members became more professional with the help of donors. Two years later, their version of the Ed Sheeran song "Shape of You" earned them a place on "America's Got Talent." Their performances made them famous.

    Now, the 38 young singers are developing a new plan.

    Choir manager Majola said all the singers, ages from 13 to 26, have been tested for COVID-19 and have been cleared to sing together.

    A recording and filming studio has been built at a nearby neighborhood theater. They have begun putting together a performance for an online show.

    "We are getting together for the first time since the lockdown started," said Majola.

    Choir director Ralf Schmitt said the group is rehearsing new songs for their first album with Sony Music. Online performances are also planned.

    The album will be released at the end of the year, but the choir plans to release a song, "We Will Rise," to mark the birthday of former South African President Nelson Mandela on July 18.

    I'm Susan Shand.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    contract – n. a written, binding agreement between two parties

    tour – v. to travel around

    manager – n. one who organizes and controls labor

    orphan – n. a child whose parents are dead

    resilient – adj. tough, hardy

    proud – adj. to feel successful

    professional – adj. to behave in a mature, adult fashion

    lockdown – n. the shutting down of an entity

    rehearse – v. to practice a play or show without an audience

    album – n. a round disc that plays music