The Warongx of Khayelitsha

| Nicholas Ashby
Wara Zintwana supervises the junior choir of the Khayelitsha Music Academy. Photo by Nicholas Ashby.

Despite the positive role Khayelitsha band Warongx and their Khayelitsha Music Academy play in the community, official and formal support for them is largely absent.

A chill wind blows down on a small Cape Flats carport where about 15 teeny-boppers, members of a junior choir, mill noisily around a drum kit. Two or three squabbles over the sticks, and the buzz from an old amplifier wanting to be taken seriously as a legitimate instrument is softened by the plonks of a keyboardist kid and the twangs of a couple of guitarists also warming up.

“Hello!” shouts Wara Zintwana, their mentor. “Haibo!” someone amidst the boppers responds.

Zintwana counts, “One, two, three, four …” The winning drummer rolls into the first tune, the lead guitar setting the groove, the keyboardist splashing melody. The rest of the choir yell to the beat as they get into their early weekend boogie jam at the Khayelitsha Music Academy.

Passers-by don’t pay much attention; the neighbours’ dogs lying meters away don’t even raise their heads. They know the kids, and their music. They hear it every day after school.

Three years ago, Zintwana’s partner in the project, Ongx Mona, was teaching private lessons to adults in the shacklands when a local pastor asked, “Why not work with kids in formal settlements? There’s great need.”

The idea gelled with Mona’s desire to bring people together through music, distract kids from gangsterism, and root out the inferiority installed in people’s minds, he says as he stands out in the road, letting his young charges get on with the fun. He’s a little distracted from their achievements. He is, it turns out, waiting apprehensively to see if the drummer of Warongx, his own band, will make it for rehearsal later.

The ‘United States of Khayelitsha’, as Mona calls it, is not an easy place to practice art. But the donation of instruments from some people at Doctors Without Borders helped; also from an American documentary maker.

Tourists come to the township to listen and buy CDs, but not so often, especially in winter. Many students’ parents don’t pay anything.

“But you can’t say no to kids when they come without money,” he says.

Any local support is gratefully received.

Warongx has been band-in-residence at Afrikaburn for the past two years. They gig regularly at Tagore’s. But neither state nor City help has come.

Whenever the Academy, a registered NPO, has approached local government about using vacant council land to establish a campus bigger than their single garage, they get told to refer to the Cape Times or Die Burger property ads, and to bid like anybody else.

“These aren’t Italian shoes I’m wearing,” says Mona, glancing at the tan Hushpuppies that finish off his neat attire all topped off in dreads. “And we are not running izinyokanyok here.”

Though Zintwana’s hat bulges substantially, don’t expect much dub or reggae from these guys when they play. Burning Spear is inspiration, and Toots & the Maytals. But you’d swear the Warongx crew were baptised in the Mississippi. There’s Eastern Cape in the music. But it’s as if they’ve crossed the Atlantic and hauled the blues back over here.

Meanwhile, the teeny-boppers have gone through three drummers, with a fierce ratcheting up of the beat by a girl of about ten.

“The drums are hard core,” Mona smiles.

“The whole week these kid hold us down,” Zintwana nods.

The Fatal Fourth rehearse. Photo by Nicholas Ashby.

Then come the ‘intermediate’ students, a trio dressed somewhat reminiscent of the 1980s, which is immediately apparent in their sound as they start. They’ve never heard of Nile Edwards, the pop maestro of that era, but the opening chucky-chucky guitar-licks played by Ryan Xolple, a student at Oaklands High, hint of that style. Michael Jackson’s influenced his singing, Ryan admits.

South Africa’s Got Talent is a stepping stone Ryan and his partners, Vusumi Vena and Linda Njokweni, hope to take to bigger things. They call themselves the Fatal Fourth – the 4th being anyone who is their fan, they joke.

There are days you’ll find Mona looking at his Ibanez rhythm guitar with a heavy heart. You might even hear him speak of having to pawn it. He’s signed up to study law; says he doesn’t want to be an artist in 20 years time.

Looking at the future through the harsh light of reality has also got Zintwana to register for a welding course.

Silencing Warongx’s powerfully fused grooves that call for One Love from the heart of Khayelitsha, as well as their pupils’ afternoon fun, would be a careless loss to law and metalwork.

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