Pretoria - While his young schoolmates chased a football during sports days in primary school, Volley Nchabeleng’s passion for musical instruments entertained the guests supporting the event.
The Pretoria music teacher shunned dreams a plethora of youngsters entertained to nurture his love for African instruments that he learned to play from a young age.
His dream was to invoke African spirits by playing indigenous musical instruments.
Today, his star is on the rise and beckons on the continent, where he learnt his craft, practising how to play different instruments in every country he visited.
Born and bred in Ga-Masemola in Limpopo, Nchabeleng lost his father at a young age, just before his matric year, forcing him to fend for himself and continuously drop out of university in his failed quest to get a journalism degree because of financial challenges.
The married dad of two said: “Music was never a plan for a full-time career; I started playing music at an early age and thought it would just be a hobby.
“My brother used to have a band that played for big names in the music industry, and for me, musical instruments were more like toys. I created a group of young boys from my community of Masemola, and we used to play drums to entertain people at weddings and parties.
“During my primary school era, I couldn't play any sports because the principal would ask for us to entertain the visitors.
“Growing up was easy for me to engage with anything musical, like the community choir.”
He added it was regrettable for him not to follow his journalism studies because of financial constraints.
He said: “After finishing my matric, I left Limpopo to Gauteng in the East Rand to pursue journalism, but the narrative changed when it was difficult to raise registration money on time.
“My second option was to audition for an art school and was accepted, but again, finances became an issue because I had lost my father a year before my matric, and that was a major setback in terms of financial responsibility because he was the breadwinner.”
After finding out about the Sibikwa Community Art Centre in Benoni, Nchabeleng was triggered into exploring African indigenous instruments.
Marimba was his first love, and later he experimented with other African instruments after meeting with Professor Dizu Plaatjies, who was head of African music at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music at the time.
The 45-year-old’s professional music career started 22 years ago, playing with many big names, but he said the late Zimbabwean guitar maestro Oliver Mtukudzi’s name stood out.
He added he recently collaborated with Plaatjies on his last theatre show while working with State Theatre artistic director Aubrey Sekhabi, play producer and director Vice Monageng and William Kentridge.
Nchabeleng cited political interference for the challenges in the music industry.
“The biggest challenge that musicians face in South Africa is the fact that the music industry is not structured, and anyone can be an artist. We are in a democratic country but still face a lot of discrimination because we are not protected from music companies.
“Covid-19 exposed the political system. For example, no one even knew how to distribute the artist relief funds,” he said.
Nchabeleng has travelled the world plying his trade, but his best memory is his performance when the marimba band headlined a prestigious festival in Greece that was broadcast live around the world.
“The Komotinee Festival changed my way of thinking and how I value African indigenous instruments.”
In February, he was in Germany, where he performed in collaboration with the Berlin Orchestra and the Africa Exodus.
After hosting his one-man show at the Joburg Theatre on February 5 last year, Nchabeleng has set his sights on the State Theatre for Africa Day on May 25.
“As creatives who promotes Africa through instruments, on Africa Day, we are going to celebrate with a master class concert where I will play instruments that I collect around Africa; this will be a provocative and introspective delivery of concerts; it will restore African pride to many.
“It has been a long time since I hosted a performance in Pretoria, and the State Theatre is the perfect venue since I am a marimba coach to a few schools around Pretoria. My students will get a chance to watch me perform after a while,” he said.