A South African choir has left its poverty-stricken township in South Africa for the first time to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – but only after organisers raised money to buy them shoes.
Of all the acts performing at this year’s event, it is undoubtedly the most unusual hurdle to confront organisers who realised that the Dloko High School Choir would not have shoes to wear on stage – let alone to make the long journey to Scotland.
So they started a crowd-funding campaign online to raise £1,200 to buy all 30 performers new shoes, which were on display last night as the choir gave their first performance. “As well as keeping their feet warm through the unpredictable August weather, these shoes are also likely to last them a long time once they are back home,” the organisers said.
“This is the first time these children have been out of the township,” said Alex Wallace, the former headteacher of James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh who forged a link with the school in 2003.
“It is their first time on a plane, first time out of South Africa, and obviously the first time at the Fringe.” Neither the rain nor their bus breaking down on the way from the airport was enough to stop them being “bowled over” by their first trip to the country.
“When the boys who are staying with me came to the house their jaws dropped and their eyes were wide open because they live in iron corrugated shacks and have not seen houses that are typical for us to live in. And as black children they’ve never been invited into a white person’s house.”
All 30 singers, who are aged between 15 to 20, come from the “J” section of Umlazi, a township south west of Durban. The organisers have described it as an “area beset by horrific levels of violence and crime”.
Mr Wallace said: “I’ve known the choir since 2006. They are very special. The school they are at is one of the most disadvantaged in the township. There are so many good singers and choirs over there but Dloko is special. “They have a background that will touch your heart, they come out of corrugated iron shacks to go to school, then they sing with such magnificent joy and passion.”
The choir will be performing at the festival for two weeks, and will be raising money to help tackle the poverty in the singing group’s township.
Mr Wallace, who retired as headteacher in 2011, had set up the Jabulani Project eight years earlier to work with street kids, orphans and sexually abused children in South Africa, and takes volunteers out from Scotland to provide help. Through that, the John Byrne Award, a prize aimed at young people in Edinburgh and Durban, learnt of the Dloko choir, and founder Andrew Paterson offered to bring them to this year’s festival.
Despite their fraught journey from Glasgow on Sunday, Scotland has already left a huge impression on the choir.
They first performed yesterday at an 18th-century church and they will be playing at the Assembly Rooms later this month. All the venues have been offered to the choir without charge.
“People have been incredibly kind in supporting the choir and providing the performance spaces,” Mr Wallace said. “All the money from ticket sales will now go back home.”