Umbiyozo enables youth buskers of South African songs and dances to increase their earnings at performances, celebrate their unique heritage, and lead rich lives devoid of crime.
Across Cape Town’s townships there are unsung heroes. These heroes have organized their communities’ youth to sing the songs and dance the dances of their ancestors. This directs the youth towards rich lives, devoid of crime and full of celebration. Many of these youth don’t see where the custom is taking them. Gangs or otherwise seem to generate more money and also offer belonging. Umbiyozo enables the heroes to outcompete the gangs. We open up busking opportunities, consign them highly profitable products to sell at busks, and create a meta-community of support for the custom.
Traditional South African song and dance is not benefitting or empowering communities nearly to the extent that it could, and its a tragedy. In fact, it is quickly dying in the face of foreign influences such as hip hop. The custom must live on, for it is a centerpiece around which communities can remain unique, proud, and ultimately strong. Until now, there has yet to exist an organization that leverages its value to restore it to prosperity. Troupes have lacked the financial means to sell products during busks, and thus their youth participants have remained mired in poverty and feeling underappreciated, in turn causing members to disengage—or worse: to engage in gangs or drugs.
The Umbiyozo DVD, a compilation of ~4 minute performances by 14 independent troupes doing various forms of South African song and dance, was produced in August 2011. On the DVD, we also interviewed the troupes’ adult facilitators, who spoke of the role the custom plays. All 300+ people involved in the filming felt empowered and hopeful as a result. In December 2011, DVD copies were consigned to Umbiyozo’s 14 troupes, who went on to sell them to onlookers at busks, and to keep the large majority of the profits. (The profits get evenly distributed amongst troupe members). The troupes were elated to receive these first DVDs. Unfortunately, a subsequent round of DVD distribution has yet to occur, as various attempts to establish management whilst Jason studied in the States failed, and public space as a place of busking was discovered untenable. In the time since (which has only been on Jason’s holidays—3 weeks in 2012, and 2 months in 2013), Umbiyozo has learnt the parameters of public performance law; prototyped performances with private entities, including Iziko Museum and Canal Walk; built a network of social entrepreneurs and collaborators; and maintained the troupes’ optimism through meetings.
Umbiyozo’s building a revenue stream that is driven by the people, for the people. This kind of self-determination is how you regenerate dignity. Through Umbiyozo’s self-sustaining consignment process, troupes receive a small round of DVDs for free, sell that round, invest some of their earnings into a subsequent larger round of DVDs, and evenly distribute the remaining profit amongst their members. Repeat (excepting the subsequent DVD round is self-funded now). Selling endeavors must generate enough income for troupes to prolong their youths’ participation. That is why Umbiyozo will also test the selling ability of other products such as djembe drums and ethnic designer jewelry. Operational costs will be met through nonprofit funding. A practice adopted from Hoops4Hope’s outreach: Team members will be Xhosa or have had deep involvement in the townships, so as to remain culturally sensitive. Umbiyozo will open up markets in both tourist hot-spots and busy township spaces. Umbiyozo emphasizes township engagement because it ultimately seeks to stir up a reawakening of culture’s economic importance there. A practice adopted from iKapa Dance Theatre’s outreach: A platform for personal growth must be in place, and so Umbiyozo will offer music/dance classes in future.
As goes for any NGO/social enterprise, the sector Umbiyozo operates in is the social sector. More specifically, Umbiyozo’s dually occupies the rare niche of “cultural revitalization,” and the niche of “gang/drug prevention.” Customs borne out of one’s heritage can be not only beautiful, but also essential in the binding of communities through common identities and pastimes. The effects of a rich, vital community renders self-esteems higher, education purposeful, and lifestyles of gangsterism and drug abuse illogical—to mention a few. Further, a community’s customs are what gives it its uniqueness and rarity, and so they can be leveraged for income- and job-creation for generations to come. Quickly vanishing customs, such as traditional South African song and dance, need not be the cost of living in a modern, evolving society of technology and connectedness. Indeed, they can co-exist, and moreover thrive off one another. The field of cultural revitalization aims to tap into this power.
When Jason discovered his musical path as a singer and guitarist, it put him on the path to creating a band, starting a social venture, and getting into NYU. Realizing the source of his good fortune, he came to see that creativity and expression is fundamental not only to mental health, but also to pride and confidence. Because he grew up in the US, an environment where his creative potential was virtually uncapped due to economic stability and abundance of support, he was shockingly awoken to the fact that so many youth lack those same opportunities to discover the power of music. Upon exploring South Africa, the birthplace of his parents, as a young adult, he discovered beauty and he discovered tragedy. He found through his interactions in Cape Town’s townships that the spirit of ubuntu (lit. “humanity”) in the townships was as present as could be, yet was imprisoned by poverty and lack of opportunity. From that point forward, he saw no such life path more meaningful than connecting with his past and building on it a better future by forging those opportunities for musical empowerment, which so many youth lack and yet so desperately need.
A good deal of Umbiyozo’s services have been provided pro bono. Pro bono services have included filming and editing of the Umbiyozo DVD, English-Xhosa translation services, management by the Amy Biehl Foundation, legal consultation, and graphic design. R7,500 was raised in December 2011 for the production of 500 Umbiyozo DVDs. R13,500 was raised in January 2013 for a company-laptop, -cell phone, -dongle, airtime, and a salary for Aviwe Tonci for conducting meetings. Noteworthy: R1,250 was sponsored by corporate donors in July 2013 for a Mandela Day performance at Canal Walk.