Mteto Maphoyi: The Power of Listening at TEDxTeen (Full Transcript)


Hello. “Molweni nonke”.

Well, I’m from South Africa. Where I grew up speaking the languages of course. When we greet one another, if I greet everyone here, I’ll say “Molweni”, but if I’m greeting a single person I would say “molo”. You know? So now, if I say “Molweni” you will respond “Molo”. So now let’s try. “Molweni”. (Audience: “Molo”) Well, that’s the power of listening. Well, try this one.

Well, we can work on that one later on. OK. But first let me tell you where I’m from. I grew up in a township outside Hermanus. When I was four years old, my father left my family. He left behind a CD of Pavarotti singing. All I had of my father was this one CD and so I listened to it all the time. I didn’t understand the Italian lyrics, but I knew I loved the music. I would play and stop the CD again and again until I managed to teach myself the music and the lyrics. I saw my father one more time before he died.

Well, this music is my connection to him. It could become my connection to the whole world. When I was about nine years old, I got my friends together and I taught them how to sing the same way I had taught myself. I use what you might call unusual teaching methods. I told them “Shout as high as you can and remember that feeling. It is vibrato and you do that all the time.” Something like that. You name it.

We will sing for the tourist in town in Hermanus. We will take the money we earn and help our parents and pay the fares from Hermanus to the township, buy food obviously. Well, it’s the way we were living life that time. In Hermanus, in the town, the government there stopped us to sing in town. There was a time I decided, do you know what, I won’t give up. I’ll go to Cape Town. I went to Cape Town. I started singing at The Waterfront. and there we earn enough money to help our family.

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So I would make money and send money to my mother. Because I was three hours away from my mother, I wasn’t with her when she died from HIV/AIDS. That was the time when everything in my life seems to fall apart. My uncle was stabbed to death. My little sister died. My aunt died. My grandmother died when I was sitting on her lap. I dropped out of high school and I joined a gang. It was very hard. I know it was very hard. I joined the gang and I began to think about everything that I once had and it wasn’t easy. And so when I was in Cape Town, I wanted to go back to Hermanus as soon as I heard my mum passed away, but I didn’t know where to start, you know.

But I always had the music keeping me going. Well, it was this one gentleman who once heard me sing. He decided to make a tape recording for me, a demo, you know. So, the night before the recording, I tried to stop a fight and I was stabbed in my face with a broken bottle, from my temple down to my throat. Well, when that happens the first thing that came to my mind is that, remember, you have got nothing. And I had nothing. I did nothing.

My voice was gone and all that. And then I began to think about everything that I had once had. And I began to value them. And then I made up my mind: If I ever got my voice back, I would make a better use of my talent. I started recovering slowly and I forgot about the gang life behind. I put it behind, everything that is nasty. I put it behind. I focused on the music and I started recovering. And then we started singing in the township, me and my friends. You know, while violent continued all around us. We focused our energy on the power of music.

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Here is the clip showing from the documentary “The Creators”. Video: (singing) This Mteto, he was the one who showed me how to sing when we were small. He wasn’t an experienced singer, but he tried his best to learn me how to sing.

Thank you. These two singers I was singing with there are my best friend, Seweye and Gululego. Like me, most of my friends in my township dropped out of high school. Some has lost their parents and some has been living rough. Others that simply see that those who had graduated they were unable to find jobs, they were unable to afford college.

Luckily, if they were paid equivalent of 2 US dollars an hour picking up garbage. I knew I could do better than that. I knew they can do better than that. So I got together with my friends. We formed the group called “Six Tenors”. We will rehearse at home and when we sing on the streets in the township we were uplifted far beyond the limits of poverty. In the wealthy part of Cape Town we developed relationship with restaurants who let us sing for their patrons sitting at the tables outside. We had no formal training, but we loved the music. We sang not only for money, but for unity. Some people who have seen me sing on the streets, or had seen me sing on the documentary, helped me with loans, handouts, voice lessons. If it wasn’t for them, I could not have pursued my dream of becoming a professional singer.

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