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Out & About

February 13, 2014

What South Africa can teach the world

Musician/activist, Peace Train use music therapy to address violence, intolerance

WHALLONSBURG — Many who fought the good fight didn’t live to see the reality of an apartheid-free South Africa. Musician/activist Sharon Katz did.

She was instrumental in bridging the difficult years between what was and what was becoming with the Peace Train, South Africa’s first multilingual and multicultural 150-member performance troupe that traveled across the country promoting unity and peace in 1993. 

In a special Valentine’s Day concert, “A Heart for Nelson Mandela,” Sharon Katz and the Peace Train — Wendy Quick (vocalist/percussion), Jeff Johnson (drums) and Charles Beasley (bass) — perform a concert tribute to the late South African leader and freedom fighter. The event is presented by John Brown Lives!

A portion of proceeds from the concert will fund “When Voices Meet,” a documentary chronicling the Peace Train that included the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The film’s title references Katz’s 1992 production, “When Voices Meet,” which was South Africa’s first-ever 500-member diverse performing group. She transported a portion of those performers, ages 7 to 18, on rails on the Peace Train. 

“We’re showing the trailer of the documentary,” Katz said in a telephone interview.

‘GONE BACK’

“After 20 years, we’ve gone back to South Africa to interview the original members. It was a real train with children, parents and musicians. Everyone is grown up now. I’ve been in touch with many of the children, no longer children and families. I have done in-depth interviews with them.”

In “When Voices Meet,” Katz fuses these new interviews with archival footage.

“I hated racism,” she said. “I hated the government. I broke every law I could to befriend people in my community.”

At 15, she staged her own private protest by meeting with black South Africans, musicians and actors in clandestine locations.

“They were protest actors working with Athol Fugard, a very well-known South African playwright, training black actors outside the township, my hometown Port Elizabeth.”

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