keiskamma-music-academy-string-project-manager-moeketsi-max-khang-2The first time I visited the village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape where the Keiskamma Music Academy is based, I was told about a man who traverses the coastal dunes on foot at night, creating patterns with his footprints in the sand. I was not at all sure if he was real but the people in the village encouraged me to see for myself.

And so it was, when the dawn dispelled the darkness from this stretch of coast in the Eastern Cape, I headed for the dunes where a pattern depicting rolling waves emerged in the sand. They were unmistakably the footprints of a man. They lasted but a few hours before the elements erased them, yet they were as eternal as the music I heard on my second visit, rolling from a modest building in the village.

Here a group of 40 primary and high-school learners were playing music together in an orchestra of violins, violas, cellos, marimbas, djembe drums, saxophones, recorders, flutes, oboes … The range was hypnotic – including traditional Xhosa, classical and popular music.

The 40 learners are all members of the Keiskamma Youth Orchestra of the Keiskamma Music Academy, based in the modest building. The Music Academy currently has 120 Xhosa-first-language learners between the ages of seven and 21, all from disadvantaged rural schools in this financially impoverished region. The programme they participate in helps them to play and study music as a vehicle to achieving their full potential.

Profound impact on people’s lives

Inside the building I find the Head of the Academy, Anthony Drake, clarinet in hand, teaching students. ‘I always wanted to work in a sector that has a profound impact on people’s lives but I never imagined that this would take me to South Africa,’ he explains.

He moved continents to be here. He is from London in the United Kingdom – context is important when you are in a place called Hamburg in the Eastern Cape. The name Hamburg hints at the complex history of this region, where German and British settlers came head to head with the Xhosa people in the 1800s in a protracted battle for leadership and land.

Drake graduated with an Honours degree in music from the University of London in 1997 and a Master’s degree in music performance in 2009 from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. He has played with orchestras and ensembles in the United Kingdom and is also an information and communications technology specialist. Before taking up the directorship of the academy, he was the coprincipal clarinet with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Keiskamma Music Academy – founded in 2006

In 2014 he succeeded the founder of the Keiskamma Music Academy, Helen Vosloo, the former principal flute of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, who established the music programme in 2006. It was established as one of four progammes of the Keiskamma Trust, which is based in Hamburg. The other programmes are health, art and education.

The Music Academy offers weekly lessons in practical music, music theory, ensemble classes and orchestra, and is working at establishing itself as a centre of excellence in music education.

The programme is all about supporting young people who, due to boredom and a lack of mental stimulation, may drop out of school, become involved in drugs and alcohol, or have children when they are still at school, which may leave them with few opportunities to fulfil their potential and lead, healthy, motivated lives.

Opportunities for children and young people to thrive

‘It fills me with so much joy that our team is able to make such a difference to the lives of children and young people from Hamburg and the surrounding areas, and to create opportunities for them to thrive,’ says Drake.

‘Some of our students have gone on to study at university and have set their sights on promising careers. I am delighted that we are able to play a small part in their development and to support them in making better decisions in their lives.’

He is supported by an incredibly talented team that includes Nico Pienaar, a young South African virtuoso recorder player, who is the Music Academy’s Assistant Manager, and a young virtuoso viola player, Moeketsi ‘Max’ Khang, a former violist of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and a graduate of the Bochabela Strings Programme in Bloemfontein who is the Music Academy’s Strings Programme Coordinator. Khang, with Drake’s assistance, was responsible for the formation of the Keiskamma Youth Orchestra in November 2015.

The Keiskamma Youth Orchestra

In July 2016 the Nedbank Arts Affinity and the Arts & Culture Trust, together with the Rupert Music Foundation, will fund the Keiskamma Youth Orchestra’s seven-day tour of the Eastern Cape and Bloemfontein to showcase the orchestra, increase the music performance skills level of the participants, attract funding to ensure the future sustainability of the Music Academy, and to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

‘Very few youth orchestras in rural areas are able to travel and our goal is to become one of the leading youth orchestras in the country and to share our music throughout South Africa and beyond. We also want to share what we have learnt through our programme with other music projects,’ says Khang. ‘During the tour we will also be recruiting young brass players from outside Hamburg to assist us because we currently have no brass project in Hamburg.’

The value of music education

The Music Academy has demonstrated the value of music education in rural areas. In 2015 it achieved a 100% pass rate with the average mark for music theory examinations being 87% from Pre-Grade 1 to Grade 5 with 89% of students scoring over 80%. In practical music the average mark was 76% with 79% of students scoring over 70%.

‘In addition to music education, we share life skills with the support of our psycho-social team. What is really encouraging is that students from the Music Academy have shown higher levels of English and maths skills than their peers who are not part of the programme,’ Drake explains.

The past four years have seen the Keiskamma Music Academy achieving critical acclaim. In 2012 it was the Standard Bank Ovations Encore Award Winner at the National Arts Festival and has also won the Business and Arts South Africa Chairman’s Award. In 2013 the Music Academy performed in the main programme of the National Arts Festival. In 2015 the Music Academy toured to Cape Town, performing the interdisciplinary production ‘Indalo’ featuring Hamburg actors performing alongside the incredible artwork of the Keiskamma Art Project.

More learners gaining university places

‘Since 2014 our student numbers in the Music Academy have grown from 47 to 120 and we are starting to see increasing numbers of our learners gaining places at university, not necessarily to study music; several of our students are pursuing degrees in the sciences and accountancy,’ Drake explains.

‘Our orchestras and musicians are also able travel more, thanks to our funders. We have even secured funding to travel to Europe next year, which will help us to further showcase the Keiskamma Music Academy to the wider world.’

The Nedbank Arts Affinity and the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT)

In partnership with ACT the Nedbank Arts Affinity Programme has donated more than R16 million to support more than 800 arts, culture and heritage development projects countrywide. If you would like to make a difference to the lives of talented young artists in South Africa, get a Nedbank Arts Affinity credit card or open a current, savings or investment account. Every time you use one of these accounts, Nedbank will donate to these projects, which are managed by ACT, at no cost to you.

Visit any Nedbank branch, call us on 0860 555 111 or go to

The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT)

The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) is South Africa’s premier independent arts funding and development agency. The primary aim of ACT is to increase the amount of funding available for arts and culture initiatives, and to apply these funds to innovative, sustainable projects that make a meaningful contribution to society. Through structured funding programmes, ACT provides support for all expressions of arts and culture, including literature, music, visual art, theatre and dance, and the support extends to festivals, community arts initiatives, arts management, arts education and arts administration. Follow ACT on Twitter at @actorgza or like the Trust’s Facebook page at @TheArtsandCultureTrust.

The Keiskamma Music Academy is a programme of the Keiskamma Trust. For more information contact:

Anthony Drake

Head & Programme Manager, Keiskamma Music Academy

Cell: +27 (0) 78 935 8014

Tel:  +27 (0) 40 678 1177