Rock School Scholarship Fund Co-hosts Youth Songwriter Program

Rock School Scholarship Fund Partners With Carnegie Hall and Casterbridge Music Development Academy to Co-host Youth Songwriter Program

A Panel of VIP Judges Select Six young U.S. Musicians to Participate in South African Festival

The idea for the Youth Songwriter Program came to Rock School Scholarship (RSSF) Co-Founder and Executive Director Wendy Winks in 2012 after she was approached for advice by Paul Bruce-Brand, a founder of the Casterbridge Music Development Academy (CMDA) in White River, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Winks and Brand presented a concept for an international musical exchange program to the Director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute Musical Exchange. The Institute helped facilitate a nationwide competition in the U.S. to send six young musicians to South Africa to collaborate and perform with their counterparts there.

In 2013, entries were judged by music luminaries Dave Matthews, Vicki Peterson (The Bangles), Wayne Kramer (MC5), Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) and GRAMMY –winner/ Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee Holly Knight. The winners—from California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia—were: Anna Pearl Belinda, Carmen Day, Dylan De Anda, Abby Hwong, Jason Matkin and Samuel Mayer.

Meet The Songwriters:  Carnegie Hall Youth Songwriter Musical Exchange

From Manhattan to Mpumalanga, a Global Musical Journey

On November 30, 2013, the six winners of the Youth Songwriter Program flew to New York City to attend an Arlo Guthrie and Family concert at Carnegie Hall.  The show also featured Pete Seeger, and turned out to be the folk legend’s final live performance.

The following day, the winners—accompanied by Winks, RSSF Music Director Carl Restivo, and Yasmin DeSoiza from Carnegie Hall—traveled to South Africa, where they were also joined by Christopher Amos, Carnegie Hall’s Director of Media Education & Technology.  At the Casterbridge Music Development Academy, they collaborated with South African students, forming bands and learning each other’s original songs, with arrangements by Restivo. Three days of rehearsals and music and cultural exchange led up to the Route 40 Music Festival in White River.

The three-day festival featured many of South Africa’s most popular rock bands, including Prime Circle, Watershed, The Parlotones, Vusi Mahlasela, and others.  Each day, the U.S./South African student bands opened for the headliners. The first day of the festival was marked by the passing of the legendary Nelson Mandela, resulting in the festival being dedicated to his memory.

Honoring Nelson Mandela

During the festival, workshops were led by artists including Vusi Mahlasela, a close friend of Mandela. Although Vusi had once been jailed and beaten for singing anti-apartheid songs, “forgiveness” was a recurring theme in his stories.  Instead of sadness, the South African community paid joyful tribute to Mandela’s life and legacy.

Two of the U.S. students, Dylan De Anda and Samuel Mayer, were selected to learn the South African song “Weeping,” an important anti-apartheid song from the 1980s. It contains elements from “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” which had been banned in South Africa at the time—inclusion of even the melody violated the law.

Today, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” is part of the country’s national anthem. In concert, “Weeping”—including the formerly illegal lyrics “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo”—featured De Anda on vocals, accompanied by fellow Youth Songwriter Program winner Mayer and the South African band, Vital Crew.


For More On This Story From Carnegie Hall, Please Click Below: