“The music was alien to him and the language incomprehensible but for Mthetho Maphoyi the chance discovery of a CD by Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti led to a life-changing experience.”
Mthetho blew the audience away at the 2012 TedxTeen conference in NYC. Check out his performance below:
And watch Mthetho’s TedxTeen Talk, “The Power of Listening,” here:
(Mthetho’s name was spelled “Mteto Maphoyi” at TedxTeen…it was mistakenly spelled that way in his passport. Mthetho himself spells his name, “Mthetho Mapoyi.” BBC chose to spell Mthetho’s name as a combination of the two – “Mthetho Maphoyi.” Our SEO experts advised we follow suit so that googlers can find him, and Mthetho says he doesn’t mind.)
Die Antwoord raps:
“WEN U SAY SOUTH AFRICA DA 1ST FINGZ DAT CUM 2 MIND
IS YUP: RACISM, APARTHEID AN CRIME
FUK A RACIST! MUDDAFUKKAZ IZ STUCK IN ’89.”
…Or 2012. South Africa’s latest census, released October 30 2012, has a few points to make on the racism question:
- On average, white South Africans make six times more than black South Africans, who make up nearly 80% of the country
- Nearly 30% of the labor force is jobless (50% of black South Africans are unemployed)
- Over three million children are orphans (but that doesn’t stop potential parents from waiting five to ten years to adopt white babies)
To avoid playing the blame game, we’ll throw in here that according to the 2010 US Census, white families in the US make 168% what black American families make on average (and according to a recent Brandeis study, white families in the US hold an average of $95k more total wealth than black families — a gap that has more than quadrupled in the last 23 years).
A friend in New York recently made the point that while statistics like these can be daunting, we need not throw our hands up in despair. As he put it, complicated policy arguments can distract us from a basic solution that the majority in every country favors, but neither South Africa nor the United States invests enough money, political pull or airtime in: education. Anyone who doubts that basic education is dysfunctional South Africa need only pick up a copy of Catherine Besteman’s Transforming Cape Town:
“Of fifteen secondary schools in Khayelitsha in the year 2001, only forty-three learners from a matric group of nine thousand attempted maths as a requirement for university entrance. Forty-three out of nine thousand. Only six people in the whole of the Western Cape — I’m talking about African language speakers — managed to get above 60 percent for maths and science.”
- John Gilmour
But enough statistics. Here are some options for action.
For South Africans:
- Get involved with Heal the Hood (founded by The Creators‘ Emile Jansen)
- Help build The Khayelitsha Music Academy (founded by The Creators‘ Ongx Mona – more from him below)
- Volunteer with Khayelitsha’s own Baphumelele orphanage
-Donate your bike. The Abahlali Bikes Initiative repurposes old bicycles as pedicabs (providing much-needed jobs in the townships) and donates the rest to Baphumelele.
For those not living in South Africa:
- Connect directly with any of the artists in The Creators to get involved with their current projects:
- Emile Jansen (Emile YX?) is the founder and director of Heal the Hood. They have programs based in the Western Cape that operate in townships throughout South Africa around the world.
- Ongx Mona (lead singer of Warongx) founded the Khayelitsha Music Academy. The school was recently robbed and is in the process of relocating to a safer area now. No better time to get involved.
- Black Pearl just released her full length album, Against All Odds, and works based in the Cape Flats as well.
- Faith47 just opened her first solo exhibit, Fragments of a burnt history, at the David Krut Gallery in Joburg
- Mthetho Mapoyi is studying opera at the Black Tie Ensemble in Pretoria.
- Sweat.X continues to tear it up aurally on Bandcamp
- Get involved with SAWIP, the South African-Washington International Program
For the faint hearted (or shallow-pocketed):
-Donate your bike. The Abahlali Bikes Initiative repurposes old bicycles as pedicabs and donates the rest to Khayelitsha orphanages.
- Give The Creators DVD as a gift. 75% of net proceeds go to the artists featured in the documentary and the South African crew who made the film a reality.
- Check out what the one and only Vusi Mahasela (whose music was removed from The Creators, despite the artist’s own wishes, by Sony Music earlier this year) has to say about education in South Africa
For everyone else, here’s a deleted scene from The Creators, featuring our favorite man Ongama “Ongx” Mona:
P.S. One last word on Die Antwoord. They’re lyrics now fit in well with the other filth in the global top 40, but maybe they’re doing it on purpose. Hopefully their master plan involves infiltrating mainstream media in order to bring billions of rands back home and start schools all over South Africa. Let’s hope. But in the meantime, check out Waddy Jones’ much more lyrically substantial, aurally stimulating and less financially successful former project, The Constructus Corporation (which he made along with Marcus Wormstorm of Sweat.X long before The Creators was a glint in our eye). Read the lyrics below if there’s any mystery why they’re not big on Gaga.
I don’t know if you noticed, but your planet is uh, sorta like, pretty fucked up.
Now the severely chaotic vibration caused by the slaughter of innocent sentient beings has led to this current situation.
Now unless you’ve been blessed with the ability to manipulate your destiny, stick your head back in this hole.
Part of me is like, “Pardon me, sorry to disturb your little comfort zone,”
and the rest of me is like “WAKE THE FUCK UP FOR GOODNESS SAKES!”
Don’t let you children pay for your mistakes.
The human race cannot evolve so long as they consume flesh.
Question: does your world resemble heaven or hell?
The demon people have got you trapped in their voodoo spell
We weren’t designed to exist like this
It was created in the image of an almighty compassionate entity
So it looks like we’re gonna have to rearrange things a little
So we can experience this shit like it was meant to be.
How come I can’t fly or breath under water like I can in my dreams?
Or like, communicate with animals like Adam and Eve?
These and many other exciting questions will be answered
When the power hungry uglies controlling this realm get blasted
By their own reflection
Calm minds provide protection
Neglection of your health is the best way to get swayed
Manipulated by blood spells
You eat food containing fear that’s why you’re scared
And I’m prepared for the transition from Pieces to Aquarius
I’m on a mission, steady
Hitting pressure points with pinpoint precision
‘Til they take the carrots of their fuckin’ ears and listen
I don’t really think anyone’s that different from me
We rock individually and connect invisibly
The Thunder cats on the track never skipping a beat
Fresh like an early morning skinny-dip in the sea.
“Do you hear that humming?
What are these strange tracks in the sand?
There’s something coming! Come on man, let’s get back in the van!”
Said Jim to his good friend Dr. Spock but when Spock disappeared Jim was like “What the fuck!”
He freaked out — whipped out his face and started looking around.
Little did he know that Spock was safe with us under the ground,
“Relax doctor this won’t hurt, please don’t panic!”
The beat started banging, and we began the reprogramming.
I told him not be nervous, we’d fucked with his head on purpose and sent him back to the surface with Jim
“*bah* Spock my heart!”
“Aw it’s fine man, what happened?”
“Sir, um why do have those two carrots stuck in your ears?”
“Uhhh, I’m sorry I can’t hear you, I’ve got these two carrots stuck in my ears…”
This Tuesday, Mthetho will arrive in New York City for the first time in order to present at the 2012 TedxTeen Conference. He’ll be giving a talk on his life as a self-taught opera singer in the townships outside of Hermanus, Stellenbosch and Cape Town, South Africa. He’ll be speaking between noon and 1:00 US Eastern Daylight Time (here is the schedule: my best guess is that he will speak at 12:30).
The talk is fully booked already, but you can watch online at http://tedxteen.com/
Here’s a sneak preview of the video clip he’ll include in his talk:
(For clarity, Mthetho Mapoyi’s passport reads “Mteto Maphoyi,” the spelling adopted by TedxTeen. Oh, translating from isiXhosa…)
I first heard about Mthetho Mapoyi through various rumors drifting about Cape Town. People spoke of an opera singer with a scar stretching the length of his face who owned only one CD, a Pavarotti album which he listened to repeatedly while growing up. Having only this music soundtracking his youth in the rural Xhosa township in South Africa’s Western Cape, Mthetho taught himself to sing along – not only in Italian, but with similar richness and timber to the original. Mthetho, whose first language is isiXhosa, never knew the direct translations of what he was singing, but felt the meaning through the music. I asked everyone I knew if they could connect me with Mthetho, but no one seemed to know him personally and I began to wonder whether he was just a myth or an exaggerated story. Finally someone told my cinematographer, Bernard Myburgh, that we would find Mthetho in the township outside of Hermanus, so we embarked on the drive from Cape Town with only a name (and the wrong one, at that): Nthatho. (Many more mistakes have been made since then with the spelling of Mthetho’s name: TedxTeen calls him “Mteto Maphoyi” and BBC calls him “Mthetho Maphoyi” — Mthetho is content with all of these spellings, though Google is less so).
Three hours later, we were in the middle of a township we had never heard of and we hopped out of the car. We got plenty of attention, being two white folks driving up in a big white van in the middle of a sea of shacks and Xhosa pedestrians. We started asking.
“Molo, molo, kunjani, do you know a man named Nthatho? An opera singer, a man with a scar down the side of his face?”
Our attempts at isiXhosa were graciously ignored and we received a mixture of smiles, thoughtful silences, and invitations to go to the bar. We kept asking, walking up and down the street, driving to the school, and finally making our way to the bar asking anyone along the way:
“Do you know Nthatho the opera singer? He has a big scar across his face? Alright, enkosi kakhulu.”
No luck. There is a special sort of feeling you get when entering a strange town, trying to speak a foreign language and looking for someone that no one has ever heard of – especially when you stick out like the bright white colonizers who initially segregated South Africa, relegating the Xhosa, San and other loosely-defined black people to 13% of the country’s land. 75% of the population shoved into 1/8 of South Africa. Even though homes that used to look like this:
…now look like this:
…we received only friendly responses as we roamed through the streets. Finally we met Buli, a woman who seemed to know what we were talking about. ”An opera singer? Nthatho? You mean Mthetho – with the scar on his cheek, yes. He taught my cousin to sing.”
And we were set. Buli invited us to brai (bbq) with her family that night and we met her cousin and several other neighbors who began singing in their early teens with Mthetho. We spent the evening listening to the most unique and original opera music that had ever reached our ears. It turned out that Mthetho himself was back in Delft, a township outside of Cape Town (where we had come from). We met up with him as soon as we got back, and followed him around The Waterfront (the ritzy tourist area of town, once a beach, now a harbor mall owned by whites) as he sang for tips with his friends. Mthetho uses the money he earns busking to support himself and his brother:
Watch more from Mthetho in his home in Delft (before his shack burned down in late 2010) and visiting his home in Hermanus (where he can no longer live because authorities have banned singing on the streets). Mthetho (also known as Mteto Maphoyi and several other spellings depending on the translation from isiXhosa) recently moved to a township outside of Pretoria to sing with the Black Tie Ensemble. You can watch Mthetho’s full story as part of The Creators documentary.
The Creators trailer, featuring Emile YX?, Blaq Pearl, Warongx, Faith47, Sweat.X and Mthetho Mapoyi.