- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

DAVEYTON, South Africa The smooth sounds of saxophone, drum, piano and guitar spill from the open windows of the old municipal building, mixing incongruously with the American hip-hop blaring from taxis zooming by.
But the young men and women learning to play and compose jazz at the PMV Music Academy in this poor township take pride in making music that their peers dismiss as a relic of an older generation.
Nthabiseng Mokoena, 23, an alto saxophonist who was orphaned as a child, says she joined the school five years after seeing its band play at her orphanage.
"What they played, it meant something," says Miss Mokoena, soft-spoken, her hair in short dreadlocks. She dreams of recording her own solo album, but for now says she still has a lot to learn.
Johnny Mekoa, a well-known jazz trumpeter, established the music academy with help from civic groups and businesses in hopes the discipline would help keep young, poor people away from drugs and crime.
"Here these kids learn the truth, that they must learn to play music the proper way," says Mr. Mekoa, a heavyset man with gray hair.
Daveyton, 10 miles east of Johannesburg, boasts more solidly built homes and smooth, tarred roads than many other townships. But its young people remain economically and academically handicapped by the legacy of apartheid, which ended in 1994 with the country's first all-race elections.
Jazz was part of a body of protest music along with strictly African forms through which black South Africans channeled their hopes and frustrations during the struggle against apartheid.
"It was a democratic form of music, played all over the townships," says Mr. Mekoa. "It used to keep alive the voices of the masses."
Nowadays, though, South African music is typically a mix of American hip-hop and the local kwaito, which merges rap and African rhythms.
At 15, Mthunzi Mvubu is already the lead saxophonist in the jazz school's band. He says he immerses himself in his music while his peers dance to the latest tunes or are out on the street playing soccer.
Trumpet player Tumelo Sikosana, 18, says he ignores the gibes of friends who consider his music old-fashioned.
"Jazz music lasts longer. I'm still listening to music my father bought while he was still young," says Mr. Sikosana, a slight young man with glasses and worn sneakers.
"Some of [my friends] couldn't imagine me in a tuxedo and licking my lips getting ready to blow the trumpet," he says with a smile.
Mr. Sikosana, a first-year university student, joined the music school more than a year ago. He schedules his college classes between his studies at the music school musical theory in the morning and rehearsals in late afternoon.
In the 1970s, Mr. Mekoa played with the Jazz Ministers, one of the first South African jazz bands to become known internationally. Now his students are sharing his experience; the school's band recently traveled to a jazz festival in England.
Mr. Mekoa is a one-man band: administrator, fund-raiser, teacher and conductor. Sitting in front of a green chalkboard covered with musical notes, he taps his feet to the band's beat and calls out instructions to a bassist.
"The next one is a G7-flat 9, and go to C7 and go to B-flat and go to E7," Mr. Mekoa says, and the sound begins to flow.
"I throw these kids into the deep end, and they must learn to swim," Mr. Mekoa says.


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