Written by volunteers Morwenna Hall and Esther Bancroft
We are so used to sharing tracks on Spotify, adding them to countless playlists that sometimes it’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to simply live in the moment- to experience live music without an iPhone recording it. Imagine doing all that, but in the informal residences of Khayelitsha, with children singing songs passed down in Xhosa tradition, using cut up coke cans to create a beat and a ten year old drummer to back the voices. Girl Impact was obviously going to subvert our perceptions of life in Cape Town of the township of Khaylitsha, but not to this extent, or in such raw form.
Standing there, in someone’s home witnessing a performance that so few get to see was enough to move us. We had only become acquainted to these children a few hours before, but still they followed us out through the shacks, singing with the drum to our car. That experience alone could justify every challenge in getting here where music here brought us, more specifically them together. Having only known each other for just under a year after meeting at university made volunteering together even more surreal. For three weeks we have worked with other young people with whom we could identify- specifically the young girls who are also at important stages in their lives, balancing their relationships and educational careers.
Music surrounds every volunteer, from the aux in the bus on the way to project, the chorus of GAPA grannies to the nursery rhymes we sing with the children. It is easy to see how much of a presence it has in the community. When working with the dance group we met with a young dancer wanting to set up his own music production company, solely to voice the talent in Khayelitsha. The ambition we have experienced whilst working on project is testament to the children’s drive, some of whom- at just ten years old- show dedication to enter careers that we also want to end up in. And it is interesting to see how the new interacts with the old, with the new generation actively creating a new community- demonstrated by the entrepreneurs who line the streets- and the mamas at Fikelela orphanages we teach how to use computers for the first time. All of this is made starker by the fact that all the talent and hard work that exists within Khayelitsha seems reserved to the cape flats, unbeknown to many residents of Cape Town.
There are always the songs which transport you back to a certain place and moment in time, and for us ‘Down South’ by Jeremy Loops will always remind us of Cape Town. We doubt you can even volunteer with African Impact without someone playing it. It goes to show that on project there will always be someone playing their music- especially in Lion house. You can’t watch a sunset on Signal hill without it. Meeting and experiencing so many beautiful moments together with other volunteers from across the globe has been another culture lesson- often arguing over English music taste in comparison to American remixes. But still we bonded over sharing the aux in the bus, against the backdrop of Table Mountain on the highway.
Music would still be playing at lunchtimes at the look-out over the cape flats; the community tour took us to the different communities on the flats starting from Langa to Khaylitsha. All of this is a reminder to how important it is to understand the geography of an area home to over two million people.
Working at Girl Impact with girls our own age and older has been so valuable in creating safe spaces in which they can be listened to, and therefore be themselves. African Impact’s pledge of sustainability means that we know these spaces will exist, even after we leave. This was definitely a defining factor in why we have enjoyed volunteering with African Impact- because we know that our efforts are all part of a larger project. Just as the accumulation of voices and dancers we saw from the dance group would not be as stunning or work as well individually, Girl Impact is successful because it spans generations and brings them together.
And where would we be without harmony?