The acapella group that has stolen South Africa’s heart – The Soil – worked hand-in-hand with us this Literacy Month to help spread awareness about the power of stories to shape children’s future. Hailing from Soweto, Buhlebendalo Mda, and brothers Luphindo and Ntsika Fana Ngxanga, shot to stardom as the winners of the 'Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award at the 2010 ‘National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Coining a genre of music all their own, known as Kasi Soul, they now deliver their messages to tens of throusands of fans through the lilting harmony of acapella.
“We should get more artists and singers that resonate with people to narrate stories… As South Africans, we use music and song to tell stories all the time… We do it at funerals, strikes, at church… it’s a part of us.” – Ntsika
From the Art of Storytelling, to the Storytelling of Art
The Soil are storytellers in their own right – their music has its roots in their own experiences of the world. In fact, music is one of the most powerful and subversive tools when it comes to telling stories. Some of the oldest myths and legends were told through the verse - the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Edda, and even the ancient Sanskrit text, the Vedas. South Africa has its own resplendent culture and history of oral storytelling, including the use of dance and music to relay age-old tales and experiences.
The development of every genre of music is rooted in elaborate history, or experience. Every song is rooted in some personal narrative, and The Soil is no different:
“Through our music, we talk about real issues in the kasi… Where we come from, drug addiction is a major problem. Kids we once jammed with are stealing and begging to feed their addiction… It’s social issues like these that are close to our hearts, and something we try talk about through our music.”
Nal’ibali and The Soil Plant a Story Seed
On 16 September, this powerful trio, shared an emotive storytelling session with children part of the Winnie Ngwekazi Primary School Reading Club in Pimville, Soweto – one of more than 300 reading clubs that is supported by the Nal’ibali campaign. The members of the band jumped at the opportunity to promote a love of reading and stories with children as they all have a personal connection to storytelling.
“African homes are all about stories and singing, especially when we have rituals. Stories are a way to draw in families and communities,” says Buhle. “The elders often get you to start a song as a way to make friends, but also for some friendly competition – to see who can sing best. As for me, my grandfather, Utata, used to gather us all to sing at night. He would always encourage me to sing and that’s where I got my motivation and confidence from.”
During their storytelling session, they started off their visit by singing some heartfelt songs before offering a retelling of one of Nal’ibali’s children’s stories, A Gold Star and a Kiss for Thoko by famous local author Niki Daly. They shared the story in isiZulu to the excited children and teachers in attendance, in support of Nal’ibali’s mission to connect children not just to quality stories, but to stories in their home languages, given the importance of learning to read in one’s home language and the campaign’s belief that all children and adults need to understand what they are listening to or reading for it to be meaningful and enjoyable.
The award-winning band ended of their visit by handing over a copy of Nal’ibali’s Children’s Literacy Charter to the school. The Charter consists of 11 rights that outline the range of literacy experiences all children should have to best enable them to learn to read and write, and serves as a helpful guideline for parents and caregivers such as teachers to ensure that children have a chance to become literate citizens.
Listen to the The Soil’s amazing reading of ‘A Gold Star and a Kiss for Thoko’ here!