Fresh talent, an electrifying atmosphere and great music, were the expectations I had for my first experience of Youth Unplugged – a six week long annual initiative aimed at empowering South Africa’s young aspiring musicians. I attended the finale that took place on June 28;not only were my expectations met, but I was also left inspired as I witnessed my peers manifest their dreams.
Youth Unplugged was introduced by the Johannesburg Theatre’s Youth Development Department in June 2014, with the objective to celebrate young people. The selected aspiring musicians are professionally trained by musician, Nothende Ndumo, and given the exclusive opportunity to deliver their craft to the masses through live performances that take place every week throughout June.
During the selection process, the judges were looking for more than just talent: “We were also looking for people whom we felt really wanted this, people that don’t just sing but also write. We wanted people that want to move further with their talent and career, not people who just want to be famous,” explained Nothende.
This, I believe, is what added a spark to the performances; a new generation of rising stars performing material that has never been heard before was a refreshing touch.
Dimah is 24 years old and forms part of the selected dream team; she came into Youth Unplugged with no professional singing experience, and little confidence-it’s very hard to believe when you see her on stage. I distinctly remember walking into the room when Dimah was rehearsing, and without even thinking twice, I was convinced that she was an established artist that had been invited to the finale as a guest performer. “It’s been good, more educational than fun. We did rehearsals and workshops, and we collaborated with other people,” said Dimah.
Ironically, Nothende’s faith turned out to be a challenge in her role as a mentor; she said: “I’m a perfectionist, and it’s a challenge because to a certain degree I feel like I can hear the future. Sometimes I see a person’s potential; how they are going to sound and how they should look once they have evolved, grown and become comfortable. I have had to remind myself to be patient because I see it and want it to happen now.”
In her role as a mentor, Nothende often became a student herself, re-learning the very things that she was teaching her mentees. “I haven’t performed in six months, and a lot of the decisions I made were because of the way things are in the music industry; spending time with these guys has made me come back to myself, the artist. I’d have to ask myself questions I was asking them, and naturally, I would think about where I am right now and what I want to do.”
The ending of this year’s Youth Unplugged is a bitter sweet pill to swallow for everyone, because over and above the training, friendships were formed. Dimah admitted that they are feeling anxious about the future; “Most of us are asking ourselves where to from here. We’ve been given this opportunity, now we sort of know ourselves, so where to from here? We are pondering on starting groups; there’s been a lot of talk. We are trying to be each other’s support systems,” Dimah said.
Fortunately, these young musicians have created a network amongst themselves,which was a crucial aspect of the workshop because the local music industry can be a very lonely one. Nothende highlighted: “Its very rare in the industry for people to collaborate and work together, in hip hop yes it happens, but generally in other genres its lonely. Part of what we wanted with this was for them to get to know each other and see how they can come together and make music together.”
Speaking on her experience working with Nothende, Dimah said: “I liked that she doesn’t act too superior, she brought herself down to our level, and she’s not authoritative. She is someone you can relate to. Sometimes I feel like she humbles herself too much. She is very selfless and she really wants us to win.”
I have found that most talent shows are more focused on entertaining the viewers rather than developing the participants; purpose driven initiatives such as Youth Unplugged are much needed projects, and I do hope it continues to grow. I look forward to seeing this new generation of artists rise. From what I witnessed, they have so much to offer us music lovers.