By Leroy Glam, The Big Issue South Africa
A project providing free guitar lessons to the children of Big Issue South Africa vendors is hitting the right note in Cape Town.
Every weekend, the Big Issue opens up its office in Wookstock to Guitars for Good, which invites volunteer musicians to teach children from low-income families basic guitar skills.
The first session was held on 20 February. After eight youngsters and volunteers broke the ice by introducing themselves (and naming their favourite animals), they split up into groups to learn different chords and progressions.
“I’m having fun,” said Zimi Mkapeni, a witty 15-year-old who loves R&B. “I like it because learning guitar is not as hard as it looks. I will come back to the workshops.”
She will definitely return if her mum, Big Issue vendor Noluthando Batayi, has anything to say about it. Noluthando encouraged four of her children to attend the lesson, along with her cousin’s two children.
“I’m very excited that the children are getting to learn guitar, and they’re excited, too. I also like guitar, and if I have time I would like to play because I also love music,” Noluthando said.
Guitars for Good is the brainchild of Cindy Taylor and Franki Black, who met as students at Stellenbosch University.
“What kids gain from learning instruments are confidence and discipline – and, in time, the reward from putting effort into something. This can enrich their lives,” said Black, herself a musician who regularly gigs with her band, Black and the Beauties.
“Helping kids develop and grow through music is an idea I’ve had for a while, but I needed a partner. Then Cindy came along. Her support gave me the confidence to pursue this,” she added.
As the co-founder of Milkshed, a social enterprise in Cape Town that transforms reclaimed wood into beautiful, handcrafted products and donates the profits to charity, Taylor is no stranger to converting a good idea into a successful enterprise. She says bringing together the tight Cape community of guitarists with The Big Issue has proved a winning combination.
“I’m from the Eastern Cape, so I’ve seen a lot of poverty in my life. But [in the Western Cape] too, you see the same kids begging on the same corners. You want them to take the next step to somewhere else. So The Big Issue was an ideal partner,” said Taylor.
As the Guitars for Good classes grow in popularity, Taylor and Black have found fun ways to mix up the music lessons. They’ve even managed to teach their young musicians a bit about recycling – a core aim of Milkshed.
During a May session, they teamed up with design students from the Rødding Højskole school in Denmark (who are in South Africa as part of an exchange placement at Stellenbosch University) to teach the kids how to recycle a mishmash of everyday objects and turn them into instruments.
“We gave them the challenge of designing instruments out of recycling. We got together with the kids and the students showed them how to make the instruments. It really was an amazing morning and the instruments are incredible!” said Taylor.
Being well-aware of the levels of poverty affecting many children in Cape Town, Black believes Guitars for Good has the potential to be more than just a weekend distraction for its students.
“If you travel through Europe and the States, there are big busking opportunities,” she added. “I’d like to see more people busking on our streets rather than begging. This is really about giving people skills for life.”