Youth Developer Tu Nokwe’s Amajika buskers discovered by Japan’s Urban Cohesion

“Amajika should be seen in every corner of South Africa’s Townships”, says an impassioned singer/guitarist, storyteller, and youth developer, Tu Nokwe, who also emerged from Durban’s Amajika beginnings as a teenager in the 1970s. This rich cultural program resonates from the illustriously musical Nokwe family who continue to hone youth leadership and artistic skills in the often confusing modern urban setting of Johannesburg.

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“I decided to convert my house in Belgravia to the Amajika Youth and Children’s Performing Arts Centre, where children come together to practice, learn, and create in areas of music, dance, storytelling, poetry, and hard core drama, about the heady issues they face as children growing up in a more difficult South Africa.”

This legendary grand dame, and soul partner with the late great jazz pianist, Bheki Mseleku, has embroiled her extended family in exciting and creative mentoring, home schooling, leadership training, and artistic styles development. New creative generations emerge and surprise, like 15-year old NoBiko (named after activist Steve Biko) who sings and plays guitar with her 13-year old guitarist brother, Manna, and the swift footed, hip swaging dancing of younger brother, Mfundo, now age 7.

Amajika discovered
One day in 2019, while drawing a crowd busking on Maboneng street corners in Johannesburg, these frisky children were discovered. Several interested young Japanese musicians started filming these young performers. A year later, Biko was singing Japanese cover songs with proficiency. These children became hits spread all over Instagram and YouTube in the Japanese media.–4V8 How did that happen?

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Amajika children learning storytelling and dance at Center

Biko explains: “We youth from the area come together on Fridays and Saturdays at the Amajika Centre to perform dance, music ensembles, poetry, and storytelling with each other. We now have 9 Youth Volunteers at the Centre who teach and mentor us. Our Japanese musician friends look for innovative youth artists in various countries. In their training program called “Urban Cohesion”, which spends several months in a country talent-building with select youth groups like my siblings, I learned the lyrics to Japanese songs. We became a hit in Japan! South Africans singing in Japanese!”

Tu Nokwe admits that Amajika has had an intermittent growth. “We are always looking for funding, but at the same time, we are blessed with fantastic fellow musicians, like guitarist Bheki Khosa, to teach the kids, mostly by Zoom during the lockdown days. Now, the Amajika Arts and Life focuses on art therapy as a way to build character, spirituality, and creative thinking in youth.”

The Nokwe family
The Nokwes have married into other artistic families. Niece Ayanda Nhlangoti, mother to Biko, Manna, and Mfundo, has a cultural program on Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s WOMan Radio, a women-led online radio station, on Fridays from 10am to noon. Her life partner, Sebone Rangata, who uses the playful stage name of “King Bsorobsarabsa”, teaches drama and music arts with the Amajika children, and actively collaborates in home-schooling his three children. “Biko’s Singing Kitchen” cooks lunches for the Amajika centre children, encouraging the art of cooking accompanied with song. It is all about art as therapy.

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Manna preparing dishes

The Japanese arts invaders have also taught select children how to film using the digital camera, so Manna is often seen filming live over Facebook or Zoom the Amajika performances with his borrowed camera or tablet.

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The Nokwe Creative Development Foundation was set up as a framework for the development of a Safe House for abused women and children. For those youth over 19 years, the #AmajikaArtsandLife workshops offer training in LAW (Leadership in Artist’s World) using JOS Method (Journey of My Soul) developed from Tu Nokwe’s own artistic and spiritual journey with Self Management systems which include a Diary and Workbook.

Parental education is encouraged; parents can witness their children’s creative sessions at the Centre or on social media live. At #AfricanChild, Facebook live streaming of Centre activities along with Instagram hash-tags all flood Amajika’s social media platforms, and engage parents to come and see what their children are doing at the Centre. In October 2021, Amajika’s Facebook page praised the parents: “We are breaking bread with the parents of Amajika Performing Arts #AmajikaArtsAndLife. It was a blessed day, and the children got to show their parents the beauty of their talents and what they have been learning at Amajika. We feel stronger with the parents energy at #Amajika. Let us continue to support the #AfricanChild by all means possible.”

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In spite of the wonders of discovery by outsiders, local youth groups still struggle for recognition and funding for their programs. Why shouldn’t Amajika be a program in every Township?

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