05 July, 2009

99 awards in 25 Years

By Colin Wardle and Onamandla Mathe

Since its inception way back in 1981, the Standard Bank Young Artists Award has been a platform for aspiring artists who have “demonstrated exceptional ability in their chosen fields but who have not yet achieved national exposure and acclaim.” The awards have always served to promote the careers of their recipients, and judging by the alumni club (Andrew Buckland-1986, Johnny Clegg-1989 and Sibongile Khumalo-1993 among others), it’s been a tremendous success.

The award features four categories; music, jazz, dance drama, and visual arts. Winners are selected by a committee chaired by none other than Sibongile Khumalo herself. They are then featured on the National Arts Festival’s main programme, funded for their Festival participation and receive a significant cash prize. This year’s Jazz category winner, the drummer Kesivan Naidoo, will embark on a four-country Africa tour sponsored by the French government and Standard Bank in October.

Naidoo began playing the drums at the tender age of ten. While waiting to be let in to his aunt's house, he heard his aunt's boyfriend (Reese Timothy) playing drums over the music coming from inside. What he heard excited him so much that he became a drummer. Remarkably talented and well-mentored, Naidoo had already toured Germany, France and England by the time he had matriculated from high school. He read towards a Bachelor of Music at the University of Cape Town, and graduated with a First Class Honours in 2002.

The youngest person to ever win the Samro Overseas Scholarship Competition, Naidoo used this opportunity to study under Sitar guru, Prof. Sanjay Bandophadyah in India, completing a degree in tabla and percussion. In a recent interview, Naidoo revealed he would like to one day be the minister of Arts and Culture. This is not merely wishful thinking either, as he would like to use the knowledge and experience he has gained during his career to make the arts accessible to everyone.

This year’s music category winner Jacques Imbrailo had always been reluctant to voice his talent, despite its evocative power. He left the Drakensburg Boys’ Choir to pursue a more conventional high school experience. He studied law at Potchefstroom University but soon realised it wasn’t for him. Fortunately Prof. van der Nel encouraged him to consider and eventually pursue music professionally. Nevertheless, Imbrailo completed his law degree in 2002 but did post-graduate opera studies at the RCM under Ryland Davies.

Seven years, countless performances, award nominations and wins later, Imbrailo is the 2009 Standard Bank Young Artists Award (Music) winner. Ever modest, Imbrailo credits his talent to God, and is merely grateful for the opportunity to share it with the world.

Pretoria-born Thabo Rapoo is this year’s dance category winner. Rapoo began his dancing career at 18 with aMajita, a pantsula collective that incorporated acting with several forms of dance. To Rapoo dance was always more than just a passion, but a creative outlet and form of expression. In 1998, he met Tlokwe Sehume who invited Thabo to join his band, Medu. He learnt to play drums and percussion and in 2002 the band was nominated in three categories at the SAMA Awards. The same year, Rapoo auditioned for a scholarship at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation and completed a three-year diploma in dance, which covered a wide range of styles, and was taught by the likes of Grayham Davies and Eugene Berry. Rapoo maintains that through dance “you forget about yourself and are transformed” and that it’s a medium integral to African culture for through joy and sadness we dance.

Ntshieng Mokgoro, this year’s Drama award winner began her career as a librarian, putting on plays with children who would attend readings at the library. Eventually she opened a children’s community theatre that attracted Market Theatre director at the time, Lara Foot Newton’s attention. Mokgoro regards Foot Newton as the first person to believe in her directing capability, mentoring her and championing her cause. In turn, Mokgoro has used her various productions to women’s highlight issues within the South Africa. She sees her work as a means of self-expression and not just about “proving one’s self”. A true artist and visionary Mokgoro believes “theatre is real” and where she belongs

Sculptor Nicholas Hlobo is this year’s Visual Art category winner. Frustrated by the banal and limited opportunities available to him after his matriculation, Hlobo decided to enrol at Wits Technikon in 2002. His time there would go on to be highly formative, his experiences and discoveries at Wits playing an integral role in his body of work. With every piece, Hlobo aims to tell as story, exploring themes such as his colonial heritage, sexuality and Xhosa traditions through subtle ribboned motifs. Hlobo finds receiving this award not just a validation for him as an individual, but for the South African art community as a whole.

This year’s Young Artists Award recipients’ aspirations do not just end with the National Arts Festival. All have various tours and exhibitions lined up for the next 2010.

In such troubled economic times, it’s comforting to see big business still supporting the arts, a tradition that will hopefully continue well in to the future.

  • Wardle and Mathe are students at the University of Cape and the Durban Institute for Technology. They’re currently participating in the Future Journalist Programme (FJP) Winter School at Rhodes University.

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