by Mary Frances Cavallaro
Celebrated Mt. Airy musician Sharon Katz and her band, The Peace Train, will be performing on Saturday, June 14, 8 p.m., in a “Tribute to (the late) Nelson Mandela” at World Café Live (upstairs), 3025 Walnut St.
Katz, who was born and raised in South Africa during the time of apartheid, founded the band in 1992 when it was literally illegal in that country for black and white musicians to perform together. They had to practice at secret locations to avoid being arrested. Katz has performed and played on stage since age 11. She has performed in many countries, but her greatest accomplishment was playing for Nelson Mandela. (In 1990 South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.)
Katz, who has lived in Mt. Airy since moving to the U.S. 15 years ago (although she has made many trips back to her homeland), worked for Mandela from 1992 until 1998. During those years Katz devoted her time and effort “to spreading a message of peace and reconciliation in South Africa and working on a peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy.”
Katz and her band, who play mostly music from their native land, have also performed for Al Gore and the Dalai Lama, at Disney World Epcot Center, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Philadelphia Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall World Music Series, and many more.
Katz also spent countless hours last year trying to get a documentary made about the formation of a 500-voice choir and Katz’ subsequent tour around South Africa to herald in the new democracy under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. The documentary uses archival footage of a Peace Train tour from 20 years ago mixed with interviews of the original choir members and other participants in the project.
“It is an extremely complex and heartwarming project,” said Katz. “I loved every minute of interviewing the members of the group after 20 years to see where they are today and what the impact of the project was on their lives. Although people hear about ‘The Peace Train,’ many people associate the name with the band that has performed across the U.S, for the past 10 years. They don’t realize that this project began when I formed a 500-voice choir in 1992 in South Africa to try to bring an end to apartheid by bringing young people of all different races together to sing in each other’s languages and project a peaceful vision for the future of South Africa.
“…This (Peace Train) project went on for six full years with multiple tours, concerts, recordings and events in South Africa and abroad. The Peace Train was more than just musicians performing. It was a movement for social change among youth that impacted thousands of peoples’ lives. The work we have done subsequently in South Africa, around the world and particularly across the U.S. is an extension of what I started in South Africa.”
Unfortunately, work on the documentary has stalled because the money ran out. Katz has been attempting to raise funds to finish the documentary, called “When Voices Meet,” and eventually get it into film festivals and then a theatrical distribution.
In recent years Katz and her band have also been supporting projects to take care of South African children whose families have been affected by joblessness and the HIV/AIDS crisis. They provide meals for the hungry, homes for the homeless, training and jobs for the unemployed and music therapy “to give hope and aid in the healing process.”
And Since the 1990s, more than 1000 children have walked 1½ hours over steep hills to attend school, most of them on near-empty stomachs. Thanks to contributions from Friends of The Peace Train, land was cleared for the building of a new school in a village called Ngcolosi (pronounced like “naw-law-see” with a Zulu click), and construction ended in July, 2011.
In the June 14 Tribute to Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia, Sharon Katz (guitar and vocals) will perform with Wendy Quick (dance & vocals), Lesedi Mpsane (trumpet), Barry Sames (keyboards), Mark Beecher (drums), Charles Beasley (bass), Monnette Sudler (vocals), Trapeta Mason (jazz guitarist) and the South Africa Harlem Voices Choir.
At the performance, people will be asked to contribute toward the completion of the documentary film. Following the tribute performance, Sharon Katz will be teaching her Peace Train Model of Music Therapy in the Expressive Arts Therapy Program at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco for one semester.