Stories of an African Choir III. Giving voice to the creative economy

By Carolynne Waterhouse, creative elder at Rand Merchant Bank

I have always loved listening to other people’s life stories. I am also passionate about the arts and role they can play – nay, should play – in business. And vice versa. And while I don’t take myself very seriously, I take what I do very seriously indeed.

It’s tragic how often we see people in the arts being taken advantage of. In many instances artists are so desperate for an audience that they will provide their services for free – just to get a bit of exposure. Or they will agree to a freebie because they are genuinely nice people. But free gigs don’t pay the bills.

The business sector, more than anyone, should understand the principle of compensating a person adequately for the work they do, and this is where we see business and the arts working together for mutual benefit. Artists need to make a living, just like everyone else. And businesses often need some creative input to help replenish their souls.

Apart from pure financial gain, artists can also learn a lot from business about how to market themselves, identify alternative revenue streams, analyse the markets they operate in, spot opportunities for development, etc. I think of it as “the business of art learning from the art of business.”

Business, on the other hand, gains access to a creative outlet that helps to stimulate lateral thinking, generate conversation and expand networking opportunities. We get to host and delight our clients and build emotional relationships that endure outside of the boardroom.

There is also massive potential for transforming lives through arts partnerships, which is one of the main driving forces behind our involvement, specifically around the Mzansi Youth Choir.

And so RMB’s involvement goes beyond pure numbers. Rather it’s about sustainably growing the creative economy.

In this country, choral music is a cultural strength. As a nation we practically throb with rhythm and musical talent. Take isicathamiya, for example – the way a group of people can create beautiful, often haunting music with only their voices.

For us, the appeal of the Mzansi Youth Choir sponsorship is about so much more than the singing. It’s about collaboration, working together, and how being part of the choir impacts on every aspect of the choristers’ lives. It epitomises the concept of “the creative economy” and shows how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, while creating excellence and magic in the process.

It’s also about the stories. Like the one about the former chorister whose father cashed in his pension to pay for her studies so that she could become the lawyer she is today. And the little girl who had never left Soweto until her first overseas choir tour to Denmark, where she spoke with confidence and authority to large groups of people about her life back home.


To better understand the impact of belonging to a successful choir, here are a few numbers: 78% of Mzansi Youth choristers are cared for by single parents, guardians or siblings; 13% are homeless or stay in overcrowded accommodation in a single room or shack and 11% are orphaned.

On the positive side, there have been no teenage pregnancies in the choir for many years, compared to the national average of 12% in the same demographic; 7% youth unemployment, compared to 54% nationally; and a 92% matric pass rate, compared to 72,5%*.

These are some of the numbers that make us proud to be associated with this group of exceptional human beings. These are people who overcome extraordinary odds every day just to get through life, yet still manage to get to choir practice every Friday afternoon at 4pm sharp.

This type of purpose and commitment is something you can’t put a number on, yet it’s a key step in the right direction for South Africa as a whole. Imagine if all 55 million of us were as dedicated. We would be living in a different society if we latched on to the power of creativity and unleashed it to do good.

* 2016 figures. Sources: Stats SA, Unicef, IOL and Media 24


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Stories of an African Choir – Transforming Lives Through Music

I.     A Tale of Two Choristers

II.    Genesis

III.   Giving voice to the creative economy

IV.   From Soweto to the Royal Albert Hall

V.    Building a Legacy