From the archives: Mzansi Youth Choir reaching for the highest note as they capture American hearts

The Mzansi Youth Choir’s extraordinary journey began when they captivated the hearts of the judges on America’s Got Talent, etching their name in history by earning the show’s inaugural golden buzzer during its 18th season. This week, they once again seized the spotlight, earning a coveted spot in the finale of the renowned show with their rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.” They aspire to elevate their nation’s pride even further by clinching victory in this prestigious global talent competition. In a recent interview with BizNews, Artistic Director and choreographer Alfred Phakathi expressed the hope that this international exposure will at long last bestow upon his choir the recognition that South African artists often find elusive. – Linda van Tilburg


This article was first published on 15 June 2023

By Linda van Tilburg

Mzansi Youth Choir has etched their names in history with a groundbreaking performance on America’s Got Talent. Securing the show’s first-ever group golden buzzer in its 18th season, they have set their sights on the next level. With harmonious determination, they aim to advance to the semi-finals in August and bring even greater pride to their nation by winning the renowned global talent competition. In an interview with BizNews, Artistic Director and choreographer Alfred Phakathi expresses hope that this international exposure will finally grant his choir the well-deserved recognition that South African artists often struggle to attain.


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Excerpts from the interview

Creating history and dislocating a hip for a golden buzzer

It’s a moment or an experience that one cannot explain, especially when we received the golden buzzer, you know. We created history because it was the first-ever golden buzzer from the audience. In the past 18 years of America’s Got Talent, they never had a buzzer. We were honoured to receive it. But the feeling, I was sitting in the audience when we received the Golden Buzzer and I don’t know how I ended up on stage. I don’t have any memory of how I moved from my seat to the stage, and the following morning, I couldn’t walk. My hip was dislocated, and I had a scar on my knee. But that explains the excitement that we all had. It felt like a dream because we were not expecting a golden buzzer at all. Two yeses, three yeses to get to another round. That’s what we’re expecting. So, a golden buzzer was a moment of surprise. That’s why I couldn’t be myself at that moment.

Finding it hard to keep going and get recognition 

This country has so much talent. But I would say the sad thing is that it’s not appreciated that much. You have to go to a certain country or make it outside before South Africans can recognise your talent, which is sad. The Mzansi choir has been here for the past 20 years, and it has been doing very well here at home, performing day in and day out. But to sustain ourselves because we are a non-profit organisation, we would do corporate gigs to sustain the running and the cost of the choir. We’ve got 36 choristers that we need to take care of. We’ve got our bus, our own drivers that we have to pay. There’s nothing that the kids contribute in terms of finance. Everything comes from the pocket of the choir. So that has helped us. But my point is that we’ve been here in this industry in South Africa for a long time, but it will take a stage like America’s Got Talent to be recognised by your own people.

Read more: The Cleaning Fix: Shining example of giving dignity, decent wages and options to domestic workers – Joshua Cox 

Hitting the right note with the perfect song

When we heard her [Jane Marczewski] singing on stage, we thought, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful song.’ But what touched us the most was her story. She conveyed the message that you don’t have to wait for life to be good or better before you can enjoy yourself. If you can only experience 3% of life, then enjoy that 3%. That really resonated with us. We used it as our slogan during difficult times as a choir, to say, ‘No, it’s okay, let’s go and move on.” But when we heard that song, we decided to record it as a tribute to her as an inspirational person, not just because of the song itself. We thought it would be a great thing to perform her song in our own way, with the choir’s harmonies and everything. Then we released it, and she responded so beautifully, saying, ‘I’m holding back tears as I watch the Mzansi Youth Choir performing It’s Okay. This is an honour. Thank you, Mzansi Choir, from South Africa.’ Sadly, she passed away afterwards. At that time, back in 2022, we didn’t even think of participating in America’s Got Talent.

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