“Faith, discipline and balance were crucial. Having faith in myself amidst academic pressure, finding the discipline to focus, and balancing work and play were key. It was about planning, organisation and ensuring time for both academics and my passion for music and the arts,” said Samkelo Mdakane, who was recently accepted to study music at the University of Pretoria, and took one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a music conductor.
The young man battled through adversity but has come closer to realising his musical dream after achieving five distinctions in the International Examination Board (IEB) National Senior Certificate (NSC) results for the class of 2023.
Mdakane, who hails from Bergville, matriculated at Reddam House uMhlanga last year. He said he envisages becoming one of the first black conductors in South Africa.
“I knew I was good at singing, but I never thought I would take music as a career. I think when Georgie Carter discovered me, I was about nine years old. It really changed my life completely. Carter made all that possible for me. My initial reaction was a mix of nervousness and excitement, knowing it was a fresh start with new opportunities,” he said.
Mdakane added that through studying at TUKS, he aims to build connections, learn from other musicians and eventually study internationally. He said that learning from experienced conductors is key to achieving his goal. He started in rural KZN before transitioning to the Drakensberg Boys Choir – where he said it was a significant adjustment due to his English proficiency.
“English proficiency was a challenge, so I took extra classes. Socialising with peers from more privileged backgrounds was also challenging, but I adjusted my attitude and focused on building camaraderie,” he said.
Mdakane would later join Reddam House uMhlanga in Grade 10. Here, he was also a matric representative.
“The role taught me about servant leadership — being in service to the people you lead. Leading by example and giving of oneself unselfishly were vital lessons. It reshaped my perspective on leadership, emphasising service and camaraderie. Reddam House uMhlanga provided a platform where I could apply and enhance these leadership skills,” he said.
Mdakane advised people going through similar adversity to have faith in themselves and avoid comparing themselves to others.
“Focus on personal growth, put in the work and believe that with time and effort, success will come. It’s about continuous improvement and staying true to your passion,” he said.
Throughout his high school career, Mdakane was involved with the KZN Youth Choir and KZN Wind Band – two choirs that further helped nurture his musical talent. He said that being a part of both ensembles helped shape his perspective of being a musician and that as a conductor; it is important to understand everyone’s role.
Sam Mdakane’s story is a testament to the transformative power of mentorship, unwavering support and a steadfast dedication to one’s passion. As he embarks on his academic and musical journey at the University of Pretoria, Sam is poised to make a significant impact on the world of music, inspiring aspiring musicians across South Africa.