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"I'm changing the world through my music" - Interview with educationist Colbert Mpofu
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
June 02, 2011

Read Inside/Out with Colbert Mpofu

Listen to the HIFA Festival Singers directed by Colbert Mpfou

Colbert MpofuColbert Mpofu is a classical musician and educationist. He has served as headmaster of several Zimbabwean schools, and on the executive committee of Musicamp. He is passionate about promoting tolerance and is changing the world through his music.

Why did you choose classical music?
I had a rich childhood in terms of who I am and how I grew up. Like most people my age I grew up in a high-density area in Bulawayo. It was segregated in terms of race. At the same time, amongst blacks, it was also divided in terms of Zimbabweans and Malawians, and amongst Zimbabweans it was divided according to class. The teachers and the nurses stayed in one area, and the factory works in another place. I grew up in a small and very privileged neighbourhood in Mpopoma South. Both my parents were teachers. Our primary school was very well funded - it had a music department. My music teacher, Mr Chuma, was very well trained he taught us to play recorder, piano and guitar. By the time I entered my teens I was already a musician. When my parents returned from exile in Zambia they took me to a music academy, and I started doing graded music exams. From there I proceeded to the College of Music where I studied Musicology. Through my teachers and instructors I have become the musician who I am today. Throughout my life my father encouraged me in my studies. But then he was a different man, he was a headmaster . . . I sometimes regret that he didn't live to see me now. He bought me my first guitar while I was in primary school. I still have it today.

What is Musicamp?
Musicamp is an association that was started by music teachers about fifty years ago. It started in Bulawayo, where they would take music students for one week and rehearse a classical piece then and then hold a performance. There's a Jazz Band, a string orchestra, a choir and the Symphony Orchestra itself. It's found a permanent place at Peterhouse Girls School, and it happens every year in August. I started going when I was nine, and then carried on into adulthood. It's a wonderful experience of meeting all the young classical musicians and it builds us as a community.

What would you say is your most enriching experience with regard to music and teaching?
The two are complimentary. Working in schools you reach out to children and very often music teachers are not that celebrated. They only think about you when it's Christmas or Easter or speech day, unless there's a Headmaster who creates space for the expressive arts in schools. I was lucky in that I taught at schools where music was appreciated, and that had good music departments. As a headmaster I was able to create space for music, as well as drama, theatre and fine arts in schools. I found that when children became comfortable with the arts, that influence also went to their parents, and then it goes to the community. I would also be sensitive about what music I teach and what values it imparts.

Do you think there is enough space for the arts in our educational curriculum?
Yes and no. Independent schools that are self-funded or funded by parents have very strong music departments, and then we've got public schools who also have strong departments. The problem is that these schools tend to focus on one type of music: Jazz, Pop, Choral, or Classical. Very few are able to provide students with a wide range of musical influences. There is a lot of scope to develop further. We don't have a conservatory in this country and the college of music tends to teach a single genre.

How did you get involved with HIFA?
I knew Manuel for many years before the Festival. We played in youth Orchestras together. He was a pianist and I played in the symphony. I knew him as a fellow musician. One day he arrived at the college of music carrying a yellow plastic folder with two or three pages. We sat on the steps of the college and he said ‘you know what, I've got this idea, have a look at it. Do you think it will work?' It was a very skimpy proposal for what was to become HIFA. Since then my involvement has been in areas of the Festival where I'm needed. This year I conducted the Festival Choir.

How are you changing the world?
Being a classical musician has been a very conscious decision. If there was an ambassador of tolerance I'd like to be one. Being a black Zimbabwean playing and singing classical music, you never get coverage in the papers. We have so many breakthroughs but nobody sees them. I'm changing the world through my music. When we have performances I'm often the only black person. I want to get people to think about it, to see that black people can make good classical musicians.

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Audio Files

These pieces are what Colbert Mpofu rained and conducted for this year's Opera Gala at HIFA as the director of the Festival Singers.

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