Soweto Strings

By Mark Kidel

The Buskaid Music School in Soweto was founded by the distinguished British viola-player, Rosemary Nalden, who originally came to South Africa on the invitation of a local (black) music teacher. She was so inspired in Soweto that she remained, eventually setting up her own school, which has established itself as an unusual centre of excellence, even as it struggles to keep going on little funding. The Buskaid String Orchestra has toured Europe and the USA several times, always receiving unanimous praise. There is something about the combination of youth and African heritage which enables these young South Africans to play classical music as it has never been played before. This has a lot to do with Rosemary Nalden’s gifts as a strict yet compassionate teacher, but also with the commitment of the youngsters whose alternatives could easily be boredom, depression, gambling, mugging, or drugs.

Filmed over the last two and a half years, this funny and uplifting film tells the story of Rosemary’s work in Soweto and focuses on the development of a small group of pupils. The changes that occur – both in terms of musical skill and in understanding and self-confidence – are in every case remarkable. The quality of the musicianship displayed by the young South Africans has received international acclaim, and conductors Mark Elder and John Eliot Gardiner support this view enthusiastically in the film.