Ndlovu Youth Choir to keep it ‘proudly South African’ at ‘AGT’ final

When members of the Ndlovu Youth Choir fly off to Hollywood this week to compete in the finals of America’s Got Talent, they’ll take a special part of their home village in Limpopo with them.

Tucked in their suitcases will be the colourful beaded outfits that became part of their act as they sang and danced their way into the top 36 teams to compete in the hugely popular televised talent show.

In the dusty Moutse village in Dennilton, local women dubbed the “Gucci Gogos”, under the guidance of local breadmaker Sarah Masango, designed and added the bead creations to the outfits, hoping to spur the youngsters on to great success on the world stage.

The 24 members of the choir who were selected to go will hope to attract the most votes from viewers when they perform on August 20 for a TV audience of millions. The two-part finale will air live in the US on September 17 and 18, with the winning act bagging $1m (about R15m) and the opportunity to flaunt its talent at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

South Africans will only see these shows on TV much later but can follow the action on YouTube.

While it was the local choir’s rendition of the 2010 World Cup song Waka Waka by Shakira that secured it a spot in the live rounds, its musical director, Ralf Schmitt, would give nothing away about the songs the singers will perform in the coming rounds.

“All I can say is, it will be proudly South African.”

Celebrity judge Simon Cowell has been waxing lyrical about the choir, praising its energy and saying that if he could, he would bottle and drink it.

Music has become a symbol of hope for members of the Ndlovu Youth Choir.

But as little as five months ago, music had been only a hobby — one that seemed unlikely to wrest them from the grip of poverty and unemployment. 

“It looks glamorous now, but things haven’t been easy for my single mother who was supporting me,” said lead singer Thabo Maphanga.

“I was expected to be working and pursuing a more promising career. I needed a job and I don’t blame her for putting pressure on me,” Maphanga said, sitting in the dappled shade of a guava tree at the rehearsal venue.

He said music had always been his lodestar. “When I sing, I let go. This is prayer and my safe haven. I can’t help it.”

The choir caught the attention of the show’s producers when they spotted its cover version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You after it went viral on YouTube.

The producers paid for the choir to travel to the US for auditions in March when it cemented its place in the competition.

Soprano Rachel Ntobeng said singing was a way for her to pay homage to her late father, who had loved her voice and made her join the church choir.

Of the choir’s new-found fame, Ntobeng said the members had become beacons in their village.

“My life has changed. People in our area didn’t take us seriously before this all happened. We were the loud kids who looked bored, but now they want to be us,” she said.

Her grandmother, Margaret Shabalala, said Ntobeng’s voice often moved her to tears. “When her parents died years ago and I took them in, I didn’t know what would happen. But she makes me calm.”

Ralf Schmitt, musical director of the Ndlovu Youth Choir, puts members through their paces ahead of the live rounds of 'America’s Got Talent'.

Ralf Schmitt, musical director of the Ndlovu Youth Choir, puts members through their paces ahead of the live rounds of ‘America’s Got Talent’. 
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

Shabalala admits she had her doubts about her granddaughter’s pursuit of music.

“I asked her why she would want to be a singer when there are so many other talented people out there. I was scared for her; I didn’t want her to experience rejection … but she proved me wrong,” she said.

Schmitt said he learns more from the choir members than they do from him. “All of them are filled with such energy and passion.”

Village resident Dipuo Majola said the choir has lifted the spirits of the people. “We didn’t think this dust could produce such talents. I’m sure they will bring change to the community, they are our future.”

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Source: Tshisa Live