The Buskaid Trust was founded in the UK in 1992 by British viola player Rosemary Nalden in response to a BBC programme highlighting the difficulties besetting a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto. Rosemary enlisted the support of 120 distinguished UK professional musicians who took part in a simultaneous fundraising “Busk” at 16 British Rail Stations in aid of the young African musicians. A number of similar charitable events were held over the next few years.
In 1997, responding to requests from the local Diepkloof community, Rosemary established the Buskaid Soweto String Project, formed from fifteen members of the original project and a few new beginners. Based in a tiny run-down church office, the little project was soon overwhelmed with requests from local youngsters eager to join. With rapidly increasing numbers, these facilities were woefully inadequate; in 1999, assisted by generous grants from South African companies and trusts, Buskaid built its own dedicated Music School in the grounds of another church in Diepkloof.
The Buskaid Music School now offers specialised string tuition to approximately 110 youngsters aged between four and 30. Over the years the school has had to turn away hundreds of students through lack of resources, and in 2002 Buskaid implemented a very successful teacher-training scheme for both junior and senior students. Apart from Rosemary Nalden and Sonja Bass, Buskaid’s cello and bass teacher, the string staff consists solely of senior Buskaid students, five of whom are currently employed as assistants to Rosemary and Sonja. They in turn are supported by a number of younger trainee teachers. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Buskaid Trust, and the Buskaid Music School’s 15th Anniversary, the Buskaid Project was renamed the Buskaid Academy of String Teaching and Performance.
In fifteen years the school has produced an outstanding string orchestra which, through numerous appearances at corporate functions in South Africa, has generated significant revenue for the Buskaid Trust. Apart from its many regular South African appearances, the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble has toured internationally on some twenty-one occasions, performing with great success in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Botswana, Syria, and Colombia; and as guest artists at the City of London and Cheltenham International Festivals (2001 and 2004) and the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas (2003). In February 2007 the Ensemble travelled to Paris with four members of the Cape Town-based project Dance for All to take part in Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s “domaine privé” at the Cité de la Musique, featuring the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau. Two days later the Ensemble presented its own classical programme at the Cité, for which it received standing ovations and a rave review from Le Monde.
On March 10 2012, nine Ensemble members appeared at the UK Observer Newspaper’s TEDx presentation at Sadlers Wells Theatre, London as part of Rosemary Nalden’s TED presentation about Buskaid. Two days later this Ensemble gave a highly successful concert in central London to a packed and ecstatic audience. The Ensemble’s most recent overseas tour was to France in June 2012, where they gave five highly acclaimed concerts in Paris and Toulouse.
The Ensemble has performed several times in the presence of Nelson Mandela, for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11, HRH Prince Charles and other members of the British Royal family, as well as for many distinguished foreign dignitaries, including the First Lady of the United States of America, Mrs Michelle Obama.
The Buskaid Ensemble has been widely acclaimed for its intuitive grasp of classical musical style as well as for its unique African sound. It has recorded five CDs, of which the fifth, Crazy, features the Ensemble playing Timothy Kraemer’s arrangements of ‘classic pops’. Soweto Strings, Mark Kidel’s award-winning documentary about Buskaid which has been shown worldwide, also features Buskaid’s 2007 Paris concert.