Inside Thy Will Be Done Choir’s Journey

Author: Themba Kriger
Photos: Matt Wareley

At the edge of the bustling township of Crossroads, Cape Town, whose skies are regularly filled with planes landing at the bordering Cape Town International Airport, lies the practice hall of Thy Will Be Done, a choir founded in 2014 as a way to transform the youth and help them escape the gang life, violence, and crime that plagues the area.

Over the last ten years, it has grown from its initial four members to a 48-strong choir whose members range from 18-35, as well as a junior choir for teenagers. Although not a church choir, Thy Will Be Done has a strong foundation in the gospel. As a founding member and conductor Luthando Buffel explains, “We realized that it’s difficult to instill change in the youth without the Word of God. So we have sessions where we teach about the Word of God. We also have sessions where we speak generally about life and life skills, coaching, and mentoring.” The choir’s goal is to create a community where members support each other in whatever way they can.

Members have joined for various reasons. For example, Thabiso Ndzengane joined in 2017 after a friend from the area insisted he try it, which ultimately helped him get his life on track. “I was quite lost. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But through time, they’ve nurtured me; they cultivated me into a person I now know what the vision is.”

Still, the choir has faced its fair share of challenges over the years. These include being able to share their message with their broad membership with the hope of transforming individuals without judgment and an understanding of the struggles they face, such as peer pressure. The choir also struggles with consistent attendance, as members sometimes have other commitments or difficulties getting transport to practice sessions. In contrast, others may get jobs that keep them busy and make attendance difficult. As a result, new members are brought in but must be taught the music from scratch.

Finally, finance is a big struggle for the choir; however, to deal with this, the choir has branched out into more commercial sounds and is playing gigs, which has helped them gain funding and widen their audience. This led them to perform for the late Zahara and helped them win a cappella competition at the Artscape in 2021, beating out 18 other choirs. It was a transformative moment that helped further motivate them and bring in much-needed funds.

As one of the early members, Siyavuya Maxhamg explains, “There were many choirs there. And we were not in the eye; there were choirs that people knew this choir would win. But our mentality did not change through the mentorship we got here. And when we won, you should have seen how joyful we were. And it brought our choir together. And that competition, it was one of the first.”

While they were also proud to eventually get uniforms for the choirs, branching out to other types of music meant that a new uniform that was more versatile was needed. That is why they are so grateful for ikeja sponsoring them with a new uniform as of April, allowing them to perform at various gigs beyond gospel or a capella. The partnership with ikeja also helps motivate the youth, as ikeja’s upcoming WiFi sponsorship and the mobility it promotes help inspire them.

Thy Will Be Done’s name was inspired by Bible study sessions that Luthando and some of the founding members used to attend. During this time, he dreamed about starting the choir, and one day, when they were studying Luke, Chapter 11, and got to “Thy Will Be Done,” it all clicked. To motivate themselves, the choir responds to Thy Will Be Done with the phrase Ngamandle Ke Thixo which translates to By God’s Power.

The choir makes its plans per quarter to accommodate members who are still studying, with performances taking place from February until March and a break in April for Easter before resuming in June. One of their main goals is to collaborate with local artists, which they have already done, starting with buskers from Nyanga Terminal that do covers of Amapiano. In turn, they hope to reach more people and grow their membership.

However, their biggest goal for the year is to record an album, which they are starting at the end of February with two tracks a month so that they can launch a 12-track album in October as part of their 10th-anniversary celebration. To help, they are running monthly fundraising sessions.

Through his membership in the choir, Siyavuya hopes to share a message with the youth that they each have their gift. “You are born and bred to be the way you are so that you can present yourself the way you are. No one else can be like you. So if you are not showing up yourself and the gift, the skill you have, no one else will know that you have it.”

Similarly, Thabiso hopes that the youth learn to know themselves. “If we do not know who we are, we will mix ourselves with crowds which will affect us incorrectly. So if we choose our crowd and see this crowd, no matter if it is boring, it is good for me. Never compare yourself to other people.”

Finally, Luthando wants people to remember there is always hope. “We may be in a community that has a lot of crime and teenage pregnancy and the highest rate of HIV, but there’s still hope. So, if you want to see the change, a wagon is already on the road. Come and make the change.”