Listen carefully. Is that the sound of boys’ voices rising in the morning mist? Stranger things have happened.
South Africa‘s Drakensberg Boys Choir is in the upper foothills of the mighty Drakensberg range that soars to 11,424 feet / 3,482 meters. Early settlers named them it for the many peaks they thought looked like giant dragon’s teeth. The indigenous people still refer to them as Quathlamba or uKhahlamba, for to them they suggest a barrier of spears.
An Amphitheatre Calling for a Song
A visionary named John Tungay founded the Choir School in 1967 and it is unique on the continent. Enrolment is limited to 100 boys aged between 9 and 15 who follow a ‘farm school’ curriculum where they learn the 3R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic. The school buildings have changed little. The only exception is that these days concerts happen in a 600-seat amphitheatre.
The Drakensberg Boys Choir
A Bunch of Drakensberg Globetrotters
The choir enjoys considerable recognition having visited North America, Europe, the Far East and of course Africa itself. The boys have sung before 25,000 people at the Vatican by papal request. Their choir’s latest challenge is to shrug off its Europe-centric approach, extend its recruitment drive and Africanise its repertoire. Accordingly. it now also performs traditional African works to the accompaniment of indigenous percussion instruments, as in this video of the boys praying for Mandela as his life ebbed away.
New Beginning for a Fresh Generation
There are also regular concerts back at base in the mountains. These usually take place on Wednesdays starting at 3:30 in the afternoon.
To get there by car, leave the N3 highway traveling north just before the exit to Ladysmith and follow the signs to the sleepy town of Winterton. Take the R600 in a south to southwest direction through rolling farmland. The Choir School is to the right not long after the sign to Cathkin Peak and Bergview.