Mama Thoko’s Song- Creating Smiles

P1110744“Akasemhle yingweeeee” Her powerful voice and Xhosa melody cuts through the room of quiet, tired and serious project officers. Her body starts to move, she is standing, clicking, shaking, singing. Big smiles spread through the crowd. Suddenly the entire room is harmonizing her melody, whistling and laughing. No need for ice-breakers here, meet Mama Thoko, an energetic and enthusiastic Xhosa woman and project officer of the East London Field Bands.

The PULSE group was gathered in Durban, this time for a three hour session with the Project Officers of the field band foundation during their two-day workshop. Mama Thoko’s singing was the perfect way to start our session on the topic music and well-being. Her song and dance was a textbook example on how to transfer a room of stressed serious minds into a smiling and joyful room. Her energy easily transmitted to the other project officers and suddenly everyone was happy, singing together, leaving their concerns, disagreements, and differences behind. It was a feeling of all being on the same page, working and creating something good together. Provide youths in disadvantaged South African communities with this feeling of happiness, mastering and togetherness and you will go right into the heart of what the field band foundation and PULSE is about.

For this workshop we in PULSE had three main focuses:

  1. How teach life-skills through musical projects in the bands?
  2. The link between music and health from a music therapy perspective.
  3. Project Officers role in field bands – adult support and being community-builders.

durban 3Durban 2(1)

The workshop was a mix between presentations, role-play games and discussions. The aim was to share ideas and provoke reflection around the role as project officers in the bands and how music can facilitate for life-skills learning and healthy communities. We talked specifically about how arranging a performance and camp with the members could facilitate for life-skills training.


Besides Mama Thoko’s passionate opening, the ending elevator exercise stands out as a highlight of the durban 5workshop. Participants were asked to group in pairs and act out a role-play set in an elevator. During the 30 seconds of the simulated elevator ride the project officers had to promote the field band to different community-characters. They were asked to approach young children, strangers, teachers, parents and sponsors. This triggered much energy and discussion around how to approach different types of people and what they wanted to convey about the field band foundation. When talking to the kids, they often emphasized the musical activity, the different instruments and the opportunities to gain friends and perform, travel and compete. When talking to sponsors another approach was used; emphasizing the life-skills the members could get through the activity and how it could help build a healthy community.

This motivating elevator activity stood as a stark contrast to the elevator experience we met at Albany Hotel, where we were staying for the night in Durban. The hotel had a nice facade, but we understood quickly something was wrong when the elevator doors closed on us. The lights went off and we were cramped together as the elevator started to move. The distinct smell of fungus and mold became stronger as we approached our floor and the sound of the squeaking, rusty elevator motor didn’t make us feel any more comfortable. Luckily we survived the creepy elevator and when the door opened and we saw the moist rugs that met us in our rooms we remembered Mama Thoko’s positive energy. We had found a role-model and inspirational woman that kept us optimistic through the night and hopefully it will for the rest of our PULSE-journey. We believe the field band members are lucky to have engaged and passionate project officers like Mama Thoko. Besides securing the daily running of the band and planning and arranging performances and camps, the project officers also work as supporters, advisers, role-models and friends all at once!

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