Mzansi Youth Choir: Making South Africa and Belgium Campus Proud!
The vibrant and inspiring vocal ensemble Mzansi Youth Choir has been making waves in international choral music since 2003, and now they have captured the hearts of the world with their captivating Golden Buzzer-winning performance during the latest season of the America’s Got Talent (AGT) reality show.
Of course, students and staff at Belgium Campus ITversity have always been proud fans of the Mzansi Youth Choir because of our institution’s shared connection: Their co-founder and former musical director is none other than Belgium Campus’ Chief Executive for Education & Academic Collaboration, Dr Jannie Zaaiman, who along with wife Marina, took a moment of near-tragedy and turned it into a legacy of musical hope and transformation for the youth of South Africa.
The birth of the Mzansi Youth Choir
The genesis of the Mzansi Youth Choir began in the early 2000s, when the Zaaiman family was hijacked in Gauteng. An all too common occurrence in the lives of many South Africans, both then and now, but one that gave Dr and Mrs Zaaiman a moment to reflect on how to turn this traumatic event into something more proactive and positive. Instead of looking to punish the young perpetrators of the crime, the couple decided to find out what the societal factors were that drove them to commit the crime in the first place and try to find a way to help solve the problem.
“The boys who hijacked us were barely old enough to be driving,” Dr Zaaiman told the Creative Feel arts news website in 2018, “[the family and I] tried to imagine the circumstances that could have led them to this point and decided we needed to make a positive difference.”
There had to be a way, Dr Zaaiman thought, to inspire young people growing up surrounded by crime and poverty, and influence their lives through the healing power of music, which is something close to the Zaaiman family’s heart.
Starting with a small group of aspiring Soweto youngsters as the choir’s first members, the Mzansi Youth Choir slowly grew their reputation as one of the country’s most dynamic and versatile singing groups.
Twenty years later, the group is a choral force to be reckoned with, performing to standing ovations at choir competitions and events around the world, at some of the greatest venues in the world – including London’s Royal Albert Hall (including a detour for an impromptu performance outside Buckingham Palace) and Soccer City, Soweto during the 2010 World Cup.
The choir’s connection with Belgium Campus remains strong, with the choir performing regularly at our Graduation and Academic Opening Ceremonies.
The Mzansi Youth Choir’s triumph on America’s Got Talent
Now, with a singing talent pool of over 45 young South Africans and a diverse repertory of classical, jazz, gospel and traditional music, the Mzansi Youth Choir have made fans out of Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel and the other judges of America’s Got Talent, along with millions of American viewers and a huge global online audience with their most recent performance.
The audition earned the choir the show’s very first Audience Golden Buzzer accolade for a group, awarded to a performance unanimously loved by the studio audience and all the America’s Got Talent judges. This honour means the Mzansi Youth Choir will be going directly to the show’s semi-finals where their next performance could see them in with a chance to the finals where the choir could win a $1 million grand prize as well as a Las Vegas concert residency.
While the choir’s audition itself is a tour-de-force of emotion and powerful authenticity, the story behind the Mzansi Youth Choir’s version of the song “It’s OK” by the artist Nightbirde is even more poignant.
The musical connection between the Mzansi Youth Choir and Nightbirde
Nightbirde, also known as Jane Marczewski, was a previous AGT Golden Buzzer winner in 2021, where she not only impressed Simon Cowell enough to use his Golden Buzzer privilege to move her on to that season’s semi-finals, but also brought this notoriously indifferent talent show judge to tears.
Sadly, before Marczewski could perform again, she withdrew from the competition due to a worsening cancer diagnosis, and in 2022, sadly passed away at the age of 31.
Inspired by Nightbirde’s energy and positivity in the face of adversity and her beautiful song, the Mzansi Youth Choir paid tribute to her legacy with an emotional acapella performance that brought down the AGT house and brought the world to tears.
Watch Nightbirde’s America’s Got Talent performance here.
“Nightbirde and her music has been such a pillar of strength for our choir through difficult times,” Mzansi members said after their performance, adding “We want to continue her legacy…that’s why we chose this song.”
Alfred Phakathi, Mzansi Youth Choir’s artistic director, told the show how proud he was of the performers, praising their hard work and ability to handle the intense pressure of the competition with grace, adding that “it was an immeasurable experience for each of them and also for their proud families at home.”
Marczewski’s brother tweeted his thanks to the Mzansi Youth Choir for their emotional tribute, saying “Jane would be so proud. Simply amazing” and wished them luck for the rest of the competition.
From a beginning borne out of a moment of near-tragedy to giving life to music on the world’s stage, the Mzansi Youth Choir’s rise to stardom is far from over, with all South Africans and everyone at Belgium Campus cheering for them all the way.
Don’t forget to catch news and videos of the Mzansi Youth Choir’s next highly-anticipated performance in the America’s Got Talent semi-finals, starting on 22 August 2023.
Show your support and follow the Mzansi Youth Choir on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.