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Image: South Africa’s Got Talent
What are the chances for a taxi driver with a great voice to move from entertaining his passengers to the opera stage?

I wonder if someone with a tremendous talent who delights himself and a small circle of others with his singing necessarily wants an international audience. That is the question that came to my mind as I read about the fun that a taxi driver in South Africa is having as he sings for passengers.

Stephen Moss writes at the Guardian, “Are opera singers born or made? Are there wonderful natural operatic voices out there waiting to get a break on Britain’s Got Talent? Or maybe on South Africa’s Got Talent, because the reason to pose the question comes courtesy of an opera-loving South African Uber driver called Menzi Mngoma, whose impromptu performances in the front of his cab in Durban have caused a frisson of excitement among those who want to believe that great voices and instant opera stars are all around us.

“Mngoma is a self-taught tenor who likes to belt out arias for his passengers. One of his customers, Kim Davey, liked his singing so much that she posted a video on Facebook. That, in turn, attracted media attention and the 27-year-old Mngoma’s career was launched. He is said to be auditioning for Cape Town Opera. A stadium tour will no doubt follow.

“It generally pays to be suspicious of such stories. The media want to believe in fairytales because they make good copy. Being an opera singer is about more than giving a passable two-minute rendition of ‘La donna è mobile.’ It is singing and acting a role over three or more hours in an opera house twice a week; having the vocal technique to sustain a 20- or even 30-year career; performing a wide range of parts in up to five languages. It is bloody difficult.

“That said, Mngoma does have the spark of something. I played the clip to the Guardian’s opera critic Tim Ashley, and while Ashley said there was barely enough to make a judgment, he thought Mngoma ‘sang “La donna è mobile” perfectly decently and with no strain at the top [of the voice].’ Ashley says that being self-taught is ‘unusual but not completely unheard of.’ …

” ‘You have to be born with talent – that can’t be taught – but teaching will hone that talent,’ says Martha Hartman, the manager of the vocal studies department at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She says that singers do not have to start studying in their teens: the Guildhall has several students in their late 20s, including one who used to be a builder. But she emphasises that natural talent is not enough. …

“If Mngoma wants to be a professional opera singer, the hard work starts now. ‘If you find a singing teacher and if you hone your skills and if you have some classes in stagecraft and movement and drama and all these things that go into being a singer,’ says Hartman, ‘then you might have some roads open to you. But most opera houses and orchestras will demand knowledge of repertoire, and that’s a very big piece of the puzzle: knowing how to learn music and learn a role.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Ryan Lenora Brown/Christian Science Monitor
Ritesh Patel is the third generation of his family to run Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, one of the first establishments to sell the iconic food of Durban, South Africa — “bunny chow.”

Certain foods carry with them the unique history of a time and place. Such is the case with “bunny chow,” beloved in Durban, South Africa. No actual bunnies died for this vegetarian dish, the name of which is a linguistic misunderstanding. It all started with a lunchbox made of bread.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There are a few must-dos for any first-time visitor to Durban, a city of rolling hills in eastern South Africa. Among them: You must be sure to have a bunny.

“Wait, a what?

“Actually, bunny is short for bunny chow – but don’t be fooled. It’s not a rabbit, or a rabbit’s food. The Durban bunny chow is actually a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with spicy curry, and it’s this city’s star culinary attraction.

” ‘A bunny chow is to Durban what a pizza is to New York,’ says Ritesh Patel, part of the third generation at Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, a takeout joint that is one of Durban’s earliest bunny chow peddlers. …

“There are many legends of the bunny chow’s illustrious beginnings, but they all share a few common features. For one thing, it’s undoubtedly the creation of Durban’s Indian community, most of which arrived here as 19th century indentured laborers, shipped in by the British to work the sugar-cane plantations and railroads.

“It also probably owes its name to the banias, the city’s early Indian shopkeepers. By the early 20th century, several were running lunch counters. And then one day, the legend goes, one of them had a novel idea: hollow out a loaf of bread and fill it with beans curry. Voilà: a kind of low-budget, edible lunch pail for workers at the nearby factories and shops. ..

“Some versions of the lore, however, offer a darker reason. In early 20th-century South Africa, people of different skin colors often couldn’t share the same shops, the same neighborhoods, and certainly not the same restaurants. Enter the bania chow, a takeout meal that black customers could eat on the road.

“Whatever its precise origins, bania chow morphed into bunny chow. Joints selling the curry bread bowls proliferated along the length of the Grey Street Casbah, a multiracial stretch of shops, mosques, and apartment blocks through the center of Durban’s downtown. …

“Like many pockets of multiculturalism in South Africa, the Grey Street Casbah was known for its music (jazz), its gangsters (feared), and its politics (anti-establishment). In the earliest years of Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, the restaurant shared a road with the offices of a fiery young Indian lawyer who’d gotten into politics after being kicked off the white section of a local train. His name? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. …

“Today, Grey Street is Dr. Yusuf Dadoo Street, renamed for an Indian titan of the anti-apartheid movement. Zulu gospel music jostles for space with calls to prayer from the gold-domed Juma Mosque down the road. Hawkers sell fat green avocados, roasted corn on the cob, and 25 kinds of knockoff brand name shoes, while prospective customers stream by chatting in Zulu, Shona, and Lingala.” Food can surmount cultural differences.

Read more about the history of this signature dish — and its future — at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR
Susan van Rooyen and Moe Kekana of communications firm King James Group were behind the 2-Minute Shower Song project the helped rescue Cape Town, South Africa, from a severe water crisis.

When it’s a matter of life and death, people can cooperate. That’s what we saw in Cape Town, South Africa, this year, when residents threatened with the very real possibility of running out of water were able to cut down enough on consumption to save the day.

And one way they cut down on consumption was by singing in the shower.

In this January report from National Public Radio (NPR), Ari Shapiro explains. “When the drought in Cape Town, South Africa, was worsening in late 2017, one of the country’s leading insurance companies, Sanlam, wanted to help get the word out that people needed to save water. Sanlam’s idea was to make a billboard telling people to cut down on water use.

“But that seemed boring to copywriter Susan van Rooyen and art director Moe Kekana. They’re with the King James Group, the communications firm that Sanlam pitched.

“So van Rooyen and Kekana started brainstorming. Cape Town’s government was asking people to save water by taking showers that lasted two minutes or less. Inspiration struck soon enough.

” ‘What do people do in the shower?’ says 30-year-old van Rooyen. ‘They sing.’

“She and Kekana, 28, came up with something of a musical challenge: the 2-Minute Shower Songs campaign. The team asked South Africa’s biggest pop stars to record new, shortened versions of their most famous songs.

” ‘I remember sending an email where somebody said, “How many do you want?” And I said, “I could live with four or five, but 10 would be the dream,” ‘ Kekana says. ‘And we got 10.’ …

“The idea of 2-Minute Shower Songs is fairly simple: You hit play as you jump in the shower, sing along and finish by the time the song ends. …

“In June — after the city cut down on water usage by more than half — Cape Town officials proclaimed that ‘Day Zero’ had been averted. The term refers to the day it was predicted the city would have had to turn off its taps and distribute rationed water. …

“During this water crisis, everyone had a role to play.

” ‘Sometimes you don’t know what you can do to help within a crisis,’ van Rooyen says, ‘and [the pop stars] were doing what they do best.’ ” More at NPR, here.

I take away the encouraging message that if you contribute whatever you’re good at to save your place, you can be successful.

Image: Gifer

2idr

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Destiny Connect
More than 50% of the honey sold in South Africa is imported. Mokgadi Mabela, a beekeeper and founder of the Native Nosi, is striving to change the business landscape.

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour …”

Yesterday I paid a visit to friends who recently moved to Massachusetts from Minnesota. The wife is a textile and quilt artist. The husband is a woodworker and beekeeper. Before moving, he sold his 2,000 pounds of honey and all his beekeeping equipment. But the new home came with a beehive in the backyard, and he can’t resist setting up on a smaller scale.

I think these two, retired from careers that have nothing to do with bees or art, may be the most industrious people I have ever met.

Speaking of busy bees, I just happen to have a post today on beekeeping. Hope you like it. Nazley Omar wrote the story for Destiny Connect.

“More than 50% of the honey sold in South Africa is imported. Mokgadi Mabela, a beekeeper and founder of the Native Nosi, is striving to change the business landscape [and] keeping the legacy of beekeeping in her family alive.

“She is a third-generation beekeeper who specialises in organic honey production. Mabela launched the Native Nosi in 2015 with the aim of producing local, quality pure honey, alleviating poverty through job creation and providing rural beekeepers with access to urban markets.

“ ‘In South Africa, beekeeping was historically never part of the basic academic curricula in agriculture,’ she says. ‘Therefore, your average South African knows very little about bees and their role in the ecosystem value chain.’ …

“Several bee species across the globe are heading towards extinction, which would have a huge impact on agriculture and food production. Mabela says we need more beekeepers to help preserve bees and produce honey.

“ ‘Ordinary citizens who have no interest in beekeeping can help by planting more trees and plants that are bee-friendly, as habitat loss is one of the factors contributing to the global bee population decline.’ …

“It’s important for South Africans to consume honey, wax and by-products that are produced organically and locally. Imported honey products have to be irradiated in order to limit South Africans to the exposure of impurities and diseases.

“ ‘Although this process is done with good intent, it destroys all the nutrients and delicate properties for which honey is known. When you buy local, you consume natural, quality honey that has not been subjected to any processing,’ explains Mabela.

“When Mabela first launched her company, she encountered many challenges. The startup capital required to buy beehives and processing equipment was high. She tackled this by buying honey from her father and other beekeepers and selling it to raise enough money to buy beehives, increasing her production and securing her own supply.

“I also won [an award] through a pitch competition sponsored by SAB, Standard Bank and The Hook Up Dinner, which I used to buy the equipment. …

“ ‘We are here to change the game and smash stereotypes about young, black, females in business and agriculture. … Starting is often the most difficult step. Once you start, you are able to get a lot of the fear out the way and get on with the real business.’ ”

More at Destiny Connect, here.

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Photo: Good News Network
Philani Dladla, once homeless, now serves others with the money he gets selling used books he reviews.

Terry Turner reported recently on a South African man who went through a period of homelessness and, while relying on the kindness of strangers, gave a lot of thought to how he might give back. He started providing book reviews for used books he sold and using the proceeds to help others.

Turner’s Good News Network piece begins, “Called the ‘Pavement Bookworm,’ he may look like a roadside panhandler, but this once homeless man is actually running a reading foundation. …

“Philani Dladla credits his love of books, specifically motivational ones, with breaking his drug habit. Now that he’s clean, he has dedicated his life to being of service to others.

“Today, he can be found selling used books to passing motorists — but only after he’s read them first. That way, he can give passersby a book review and set the price accordingly; from a dollar for books he doesn’t like, to six dollars for real page-turners.

“While still homeless himself, Dladla began using the money to buy other homeless people soup and bread every day.

“ ‘Seeing their smiles motivated me to keep using the little I had to spread happiness,’ Dladla said. …

“No longer homeless, he still feeds those on the streets, and even started a ‘Pavement Bookworm’ Book Readers’ Club in a local park where kids can hang out and read until their parents come home from work.

“He has also set up a website where people in Johannesburg, South Africa, can donate books or support a child in the reading club.”

Read more at Good News Network, here.

I’m pretty clueless about how to interact with someone who is homeless, although I’ve learned to smile since Suzanne told me that smiling was Mother Teresa’s advice.

And I’m getting to know the woman who spends the winter in one of the two ladies room cubicles at the Porter Square T station. She tends to rant, but her rants sometimes make sense. I think it’s a kindness that the T lets her stay on cold nights. She doesn’t seem to be doing any harm. Of course, it’s an outrage that anyone is without a home in this country.

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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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