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Musical Exchange: South Africa Reflection

In December 2013, six young songwriters traveled to South Africa, collaborating with fellow young musicians and performing at the CDMA Route 40 Music Festival. The trip was the culmination of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Exchange Songwriter Search, a contest in partnership with the Casterbridge Music Development Academy and the Rock School Scholarship Fund. The winners were selected by world-renowned artists, including Dave Matthews, Wayne Kramer (MC5), Vicki Peterson (The Bangles), and acclaimed South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela. The contest took place on Musical Exchange, Carnegie Hall’s global online community for young musicians, which also served as the home of a six-week songwriting project leading up to the trip. 

In the following, five of the winners reflect on their experiences and growth through the program and while in South Africa.

How was your experience on Musical Exchange? Have you ever collaborated with other young musicians online before?
MX Anna Belinda
Anna Pearl Belinda: The only thing that I have done online with other musicians is reach out to see if they wanted to collaborate. Musical Exchange was helpful in the sense that I got to meet the other musicians and see what their personalities were like. It would have been very scary if I didn’t know who I was about to go to South Africa with! I enjoyed listening to their music and seeing what everyone’s individual styles were.
MX Abby Hwong
Abby Hwong: I’ve never collaborated with anyone before this experience. I’ve always worked in my room by myself because I was too shy to put my music out there. Submitting my music on Musical Exchange made it more relatable because it is geared specifically toward young musicians.

Tell us about your experience in South Africa. What were some highlights of the trip?
MX Sam Mayer
Sam Mayer: Opening for Vusi Mahlasela was definitely a highlight. Playing his song “Weeping” at the end of the set was an incredible feeling: Being at the place the song was written about let me feel its significance on a greater level, especially given Nelson Mandela’s passing. Plus, Vusi was watching. I don’t think I’ve felt a song more than that in my life.

What are some things you’ve learned about the culture and music scene of South Africa?
MX Abby Hwong
Abby Hwong: The music scene in South Africa was so warm and closely knit, and so passionate. I’ve never seen people work so hard, care so much about what they do, and so genuinely want to see each other succeed.
MX Anna Belinda
Anna Pearl Belinda: I’ve learned a lot about how you should hold yourself—the way you want to represent yourself. I also gained more information on singing technique and not straining my voice. Culturally, I have so much respect for what I got to experience in South Africa. I say this because the first thing I noticed about everyone there was that they did everything with heart. They leave everything on the stage—no matter what they’re doing or where they’re performing. They don’t perform music, they are the music. It sounds cheesy, but I love their passion and that’s how I would describe it.

Has being immersed in a different culture changed your songwriting style at all? What did you learn from your fellow songwriters?
MX Dylan DeAnda
Dylan DeAnda: It’s tough for me not to think so technically all the time. Being on this trip with other musicians who didn’t focus as much on music theory showed me that a less technical approach doesn’t lessen the musician. It taught me to not think as much about my music, but to just play from the heart instead.
MX Anna Belinda
Anna Pearl Belinda: The experience has made me want to focus on putting all my feelings into my work. I also want to experiment with more drums and beats now that I have seen the way many South African musicians utilize those things. Overall, everyone on the trip was extremely talented. I am in awe of them, and they have inspired me to push myself harder and pursue what I want.

How are you going to bring this experience home to your neighborhood and community?
MX Jason Matkin
Jason Matkin: In my community and neighborhood, I will continue to sing, write and exhibit my work. I will teach what I have learned on the trip and I will of course continue to promote Carnegie Hall's Music Exchange, without which I would have not been able to have this incredible experience.