Participating in the arts can add great value to anyone’s life, multi-award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Loyiso Bala told youngsters of the Tsogo Sun Arts Academy at Diepsloot Primary School on a recent visit to encourage and motivate them. “There are many skills and values that the arts teach you that you can use in whatever career you end up in.”
Bala told the learners that the arts had taught him discipline, patience and hard work, as well as creativity. “You will find in many walks in life that it is the creative thinkers who are the most successful,” he added. Other important lessons for him were teamwork and accountability to others as you cannot accomplish very much in the arts on your own. “You always need to work with others and you are always accountable to them.”
This is the crux of the Tsogo Sun Arts Academy programme – it adds far more to youngsters’ lives than just learning skills in the performing arts. “We use the arts as a medium to deliver life skills, leadership and healthy lifestyle information, while also reinforcing the importance of education to young people, ultimately aiming to nurture them more than just on the stage, but also off stage,” explains Shanda Paine, Group CSI Manager for Tsogo Sun.
Bala, whose father died when he was very young, spent years as a youngster moving from home to home with his mother and siblings as family members took turns taking them in. One relative who is to this day Bala’s role model was then 19-year old cousin, Lwando Bantom, who was a petrol attendant. He helped Bala and his brother Zwai get scholarships to Drakensberg Boys Choir School. He then encouraged Bala, telling him quitting was not an option, when academic life was very tough and Bala was considering giving up. “Lwando was a tremendous support to our family and an inspiration to me, but he was also always ready and available to help anyone who needed it in our community. He taught me the true meaning of loving and serving others – which has been a valuable lesson in the arts industry.”
Some of the learners who listened to Bala are already benefiting from the holistic approach of the Arts Academy programme. Asked what they have learned from the Arts Academy, few focused purely on the arts. “I have learned about respect, caring for others and helping them when they need my help,” said Daniela Matloa. 11-year-old Karen Modau echoes this, “I have learned to help my peers when they need it.” David Khumalo, 13, says the other children are like family to him. “I give them respect and they respect me back. They teach me things and I teach them.”
Bala appealed to the learners to make the most of every opportunity they have to learn lifeskills and to strengthen their performing skills – and not to waste time on trying to find a cousin or a friend in the arts industry who can pave the way for them to get in or trying to get their demos onto TV or radio. “Your learning doesn’t only start when you make it into the industry. You need to learn now – getting out there and performing and serving others. It’s about your talent and how you use it,” he said, not who you know. He advised the youngsters to find opportunities to sing and perform – at school, in choirs, in church, at community events, weddings and funerals.
He also reminded the youngsters that staying in the arts for the long-haul required a tremendous level of self-discipline and resisting the temptation to be swept up by the razzle-dazzle of the industry.
Adds Paine, “Having someone of Loyiso’s calibre and character talk to the youngsters in the Arts Academy is tremendously valuable. It underpins the lifeskills we are striving to impart and encourages them to work hard. The Academy is not aimed at discovering the next Beyoncé, but at having a real impact on these children’s lives in the long term – through the medium of the performing arts.”
The programme has also injected hope into these disadvantaged lives – and the youngsters are anticipating bright futures, one as a botanist, another as an actor, an engineer, a medical detective, or in the words of Karen Modau, “I can be anything that I want to be, so I can also be a doctor.”