Katz rides Peace Train to Dover with film, concert

Katz by .

Grammy-nominated South African musician Sharon Katz will host a pair of screenings of her acclaimed documentary “When Voices Meet” Thursday at Dover High School and then perform in concert with her band The Peace Train March 11 at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts. (Submitted photo)

More than 20 years later, the joy of Sharon Katz’s memories of a magical time still shine, even through the phone.

“I’m just so thankful that I could use my voice and skills for good. With the support and assistance of so many people around me, we all had this common vision,” she said.

That vision was one of racial harmony and justice.

Ms. Katz grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, living under a rule that said the races must live separately. It was enforced through legislation by the governing National Party.

Having moved to Philadelphia to become a music therapist in the early 1980s, Ms. Katz returned to her homeland in the early 1990s as Nelson Mandela was being released from jail after 27 years for standing up against the government.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copySeeing the start of the disintegration of racial strife, Ms. Katz was eager to return, and along with singer and educator Nonhlanhla Wanda, formed a 500-voice multicultural choir, which helped break through apartheid’s barriers.

Thousands lined the streets around Durban City Hall in May 1993 for the first of three concerts dubbed “When Voices Meet.”

In December of that same year, Ms. Katz took 150 of those students on a two-week performing tour across South Africa for an excursion dubbed The Peace Train.

In April 1994, the first general elections where all races could take part was held. The oppressive government was overthrown and Mr. Mandela was elected president, effectively ending apartheid.

A documentary released last year called “When Voices Meet” chronicles the formation of the choir and the ride. The movie, which has been screened to much acclaim in film festivals across the country, will be shown twice on Thursday at Dover High School.

The Grammy-nominated Ms. Katz will perform with her five-piece band, also called The Peace Train, the following night at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts.

“I was working as a music therapist in Philadelphia in 1990 when Mandela was released and was very anxious to get home,” said Ms. Katz, who still lives in Philadelphia.

“Marilyn Cohen, who was an administrator of mental health services in Philadelphia at the time, agreed to come to South Africa to help be part of the change. And she ended up staying eight years helping me with this project and we’ve been working together ever since.”

To form the choir, Ms. Katz arranged for not only white and black children to take part but kids from a total of nine different racial and cultural groups.

To make this happen, however, she had to travel to a variety of segregated schools and rehearse them separately.

“It was a logistical exercise. That’s for sure,” she recalled.

“We would start early in the morning in the outlying areas and what struck me the most was the disparity of conditions — from the worst conditions for black people with no running water and no electricity to the most privileged white schools in the center of town.”

When everyone came together, it was a moment she will never forget.

Sha-with-Manhdela-at-his-75th-birthday by .

Ms. Katz meets with Nelson Mandela at his 75th birthday. (Submitted photo)

“The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up just seeing them all together,” she said with her pride still evident.

“These were historic times. We were about to be in a democratic South Africa for the first time and to bring together all of these young people was absolutely amazing.

“It was the result of a lot of hard work. And you just start to think ‘Oh my God. Is this really happening?’ It was such a beautiful and magical experience that really can’t be described.”

As a young girl, Ms. Katz knew something was “horribly wrong” in her country.

“That realization probably came to me when I was about 10 years old,” she said.

As a teenager, she would sneak away at great peril to a “blacks-only” section and meet with actors who were putting on plays by writer Athol Fugard, who chronicled the situation in South Africa.

“I really wanted to know as much as I could and understand what was going on at the time. I had to sneak back and forth illegally. It was an eye-opening experience for me,” she said.

She is starting up a new Peace Train this summer with performances and leadership workshops starting on July 4 in Ferguson, Missouri, and stretching to Washington, D.C., until July 18.

The two-week journey will include nearby stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore. It initially will carry 150 young performers but more are encouraged to join as the train moves on.

For more information, email get­onthepeacetrain@gmail.com.

“We live in such a negative time that we thought this was the perfect period to do something like this again,” Ms. Katz said.

The documentary, in which she is featured and served as story consultant, will be shown at 9 a.m. Thursday and again at noon at Dover High School on Del. 8.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students. To view a trailer from the film, visit whenvoicesmeet.com.

The Schwartz show on March 11 will showcase her band, which she says “packs a wallop.”

Ms. Katz, who has worked with the likes of famed African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sting and Pete Seeger, blends South African music with funk and jazz rhythms.

Her band was nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album for the 2002 record “Imbizo.”

Tickets for the 7:30 show, which also will feature also students from the Dover High School Arts Academy and the University of Delaware performing music and spoken word pieces, are $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors.

They can be purchased by calling 678-5152, visiting schwartzcenter.com or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

“We really never knew if apartheid would ever come to an end and if Mandela would ever be free,” Ms. Katz said.

“To see Mandela coming out of jail and then to see him elected president was such a major change in the country. It’s an experience I’m sure I’ll never have in my lifetime. And to have a role to play in it — I’m just so thankful.”

Four Tenors in Smyrna

There is plenty on the musical menu this weekend.

Smyrna Opera House will host a shortened preview performance of OperaDelaware’s upcoming presentation of The Four Tenors tonight

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Doors will open at 6:45.

Th event will feature music director, Jeffrey Miller, and four tenors — Gary Seydell, Tim Augustin, Nicholas Simpson and Jeffrey Halili.

Tickets are $25 general admission, $23 SOH members, senior citizens and military and $13 children younger than 12.

To purchase them, visit smyrnaoperahouse.org, call 653-4236 or stop by the box office at 7 W. South St.

Habana Sax at Schwartz

Habana Sax, a saxophone/percussion quintet, will perform at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday

This Havana, Cuba-based quintet blends Afro-Cuban, Salsa, Latin Jazz, Brazilian rhythms and mystical chant with jazz-driven vocals and Latin percussion.

Tickets are $26-$32 and can be purchased by calling 678-5152, visiting schwartzcenter.com or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

April Mae and Junebugs at Cooldog

April Mae and The Junebugs will headline a Cooldog Concert at 3 p.m. Saturday. The two-piece Dover blues duo Hoochi Coochi will open the show.

April Mae and The Junebugs harken back to the 1940s with a cigar-box guitar, slap bass and washboard.

Contributions are $15 or $10 for ages 10-18 and active military. Guests are asked to bring a covered dish to share.

For more information and reservations, visit cooldogconcerts.com.

Hop to it

Plans for the Fordham and Dominion Brewing Co. fifth annual R2Hop2 beer and music festival on April 23 have been announced.

The festival will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at the brewery, located at 1284 McD Drive in Dover and will feature a full day of live music with performances by Pasadena, BarrelHouse and The Casey Alvarez Band.

Adult activities will include a keg toss, cornhole, a homebrew demonstration and a pinup photo booth while children will be treated to a rock climbing wall and face painting, among other free activities.

At $50, VIP tickets include a private tent area, preferred parking, T-shirt, food and a bottomless R2Hop2 specialty glass. Regular tickets are $25 in advance ($30 at the door) and include five beers and an R2hop2 specialty glass. Tickets are available for designated drivers for $20; children younger than the age of 16 are admitted free.

Tickets can be purchased at the brewery or online at fordhamanddominion.com.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the animated “Zootopia 3D,” the action sequel “London Has Fallen” and Tina Fey in the war zone comedy “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “The Peanuts Movie,” the action-adventure film “In the Heart of the Sea” and “Victor Frankenstein.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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