A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!




A Ciel Productions & All Living Things film in association with Coniche Pictures


Fezeka's Voice

Phumi Tsewu with Fezeka High School Choir


Holly Lubbock – Director/Camera/Editor


Purcell Room – Southbank Centre


May 13, 2011


For twelve years, Phumi Tsewu had been teaching, and conducting the National Championship winning Frezeka High School Choir in South Africa’s impoverished Guguletu township, feeling that if he helps even one of his young charges ‘escape the mire’ his efforts haven’t been in vain. This moving documentary follows Phumi and his choir’s trials and triumphs during the eight weeks they’re learning the English and Latin Mass they’ll perform in Salisbury Cathedral for the prestigious Salisbury International Arts Festival of 2008, as well as their experiences once there. In order to establish the importance of this event, the story begins with the teenage choir and their conductor, waiting in the wings of Salisbury Cathedral in a state of nervous excitement. This paves the way for us to discover what lead up to this moment…The choir was invited to perform solely on the strength of a show one of the Festival organizers had witnessed on a trip to South Africa the year before. Getting there has meant hard work and, disappointment for some, while others have hopes that their dreams will come true.

As you might imagine, readying seventy-seven teenagers for a once in a lifetime trip to a destination as far away as England, a place they could never have hoped to travel to otherwise, is a daunting task. Yet their teacher rises to the challenge, as we see the young people, in various modes of determination, frustration and dreaminess about the possibilities of fame and what it will be like in England during their weeks of intense preparations. The leafy village of Malmesbury is home to several English families who will host them during their stay. Once there, there are moments of gentle humour, when cultural differences create distain, as in the case of an older English woman who tries to coax her African guests to eat raw rhubarb as she did as a child, and emotion, when another host tells us that one of the girls staying with her has asked her if she could call her ‘mum’ as he own young mother has died of HIV.

There is obvious star quality in some of the most gifted singers in the choir and the film pays special attention to the travails of three of them: Busi, 16, Nokwanda, 17, and Zukisa, also 17, intermittently focusing on their hopes and aspirations and the many obstacles they must overcome to achieve them. Although they have dreams, they’ve been tempered with strife, so they are also, unusually level-headed.

There are thankfully, no trendy camera angles or fast cutaways here, as the film is simply, yet eloquently shot, moving from fresh young faces beaming with hope to scenes of desolation, both inner and outer back home. The sensitive filming also at times, reveals unexpectedly poignant moments, such as one in which Nokwanda’s face assumes a pensive, faraway look as she stands before a pair of fenced stallions, one of which she has just alighted from, in the lush grounds of her hosts. Not only is Nokwanda’s clear operatic voice incredibly rich and mature for a girl of her age, but her matter of fact acceptance that she’ll have to ‘get a job’ if she can’t further her education, while glimpses of the rugged deprivation of life back home flash before us, are truly, humbling. Sixteen year old Busi on the other hand, dreams of becoming a ‘Hollywood’ movie star, and is as prone to giggling as any teenage girl you might meet anywhere. However, following the loss of her mother, which she relates candidly in shots depicting her with her ample, smiling grandmother, we find that she has had to toughen up within a very short space in time to try to keep her spirits up. Busi’s strong soprano voice and dogged cheeriness will no doubt continue to be her anchors in any storms she might encounter. Zukisa too dreams of becoming a singing star and the depth and soulfulness of his voice indicates that could well be an achievable goal. We root for Zukisa, Busi and Nokwanda without any conscious prompting throughout the film. So much so that we feel for Zukisa when his plans unexpectedly go awry, and when we witness a segment of the choir’s thrilling performance in Salisbury, and see their great joy and pride at having arrived at that pinnacle, the moment celebrates an accomplishment which we are all deeply and warmly cheered by.

But it is really their teacher, Phumi Tsewu whose story is at the heart of this tale, as without his dreams, perseverance and dedication, the choir would not have made it to the top, resulting in the rare chance for them to make their dream trip, and for us, to follow them on their journey. It’s people like Phumi who remind us that teaching is, potentially, a noble profession, dependent on who’s doing the teaching.

Perhaps a CD of the choir might further the interest of those booking other music festivals and help generate additional funds for the Feveka School and Guguletu Township. WOMAD, for example, which we’ve reviewed over the past couple of years, is staged in Malmesbury annually. The fact that the choir is made up of young people is additionally positive as it offers youngsters a pathway into World Music which they could identify with more readily, thus encouraging interest in cultures other than their own.

Gratifyingly, we do find that for some of the young people followed in the film, there is a way forward out of their seemingly, hopeless situations, towards the goals they’ve been dreaming of and working towards, thanks to a scholarship fund set up by the good people of Salisbury. Though possibly, the most urgent message this film conveys, apart from those already cited, is the fact that it shines much needed light into the dark corners hiding lingering deprivation and poverty ignited by prejudice which still abound in many post-Apartheid Townships of South Africa.

If you ever have a chance to see this remarkable film, Fezeka’s Voice, do yourself a favour and make the effort to catch it, as watching it provides its’ own priority re-establishing rewards – a gift in and of itself. Meanwhile, you can make a donation to the worthy fund supporting higher education for the underprivileged young people of Guguletu Township and fuel some otherwise, impossible dreams.


For futher information click this link:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu with members of Fezeka High School Choir

Part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations with MasterCard

For further listings see:

Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX


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