Kronendal Music Academy in South Africa “The good thing about music is, when it hits you feel no pain”

Music lessons at the Kronendal Music Academy, South Africa.
Music lessons at the Kronendal Music Academy, South Africa. | Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe

South African writer Lindokuhle Nkosi visits the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town, which provides musical education for children. In a personal exchange with founder Dwyn Griesel they speak about the hardships of the corona pandemic and the consequences for the children, but also about the healing power of music.

By Lindokuhle Nkosi

Situated in an old house in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town, - one and half stories, with raised triangular roofing and a terraced garden spilling out in the back - it's easy to underestimate the magic contained within. Two chairs made from violins, or some other kind of small string instrument welcome us at the entrance. A signal to what beholds us past the humble entrance hall - one large lounge and reception area that opens out into greenery behind it; to the left, some music rooms and a staircase that leads to classes upstairs. Above us, someone blows something big and loud, while around us, small people balance instruments larger than their own frames, carefully levelling them against tables, chairs and walls as the young students of the Kronendal Music Academy (KMA) eat lunch, a delectable smelling curry with chicken and butternut.

Who can imagine what the pandemic period has meant for these children? According to Amnesty International, the global lockdowns heightened domestic violence against women and children. Add to that the increased financial and food insecurity, people living in impoverished neighbourhoods in South Africa found themselves under an immense amount of pressure from all sides.

The impact of lockdowns

“The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an escalation in gender-based violence against women and girls in Southern Africa. It has also magnified existing structural problems such as poverty, inequality, crime, high unemployment and systematic criminal justice failures,” said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International in February 2021.

Within weeks of South Africa being in lockdown, domestic violence increased sharply across the region. In the first week of the lockdown, the South African Police Service (SAPS) reported receiving 2,300 calls for help related to gender-based violence. By mid-June 2020, 21 women and children had been killed by intimate partners in the country and murder increased by 20 per cent compared to the previous period.

The Kronendal Music Academy has not been invulnerable to the violence of the times. In March 2020, founder Dwyn Griesel and building manager Andile Petelo cycled the Cape Town Cycle Tour wearing t-shirts bearing the face of Sibusiso Dakuse. Dakuse was a twelve-year-old student who’d recently joined the programme after being referred by a primary school teacher. A 23-year-old man, a local assistant basketball coach, confessed to Dakuse’s murder after the preteen’s body was discovered amongst the reeds on Kronendal Farm.

“It is beyond comprehension that Sibusiso’s beautiful voice will not be heard again,” wrote Griesel. The day before Dakuse’s murderer appeared in court, Griesel shared a post on social media, along with a video of Dakuse melodically singing What the World Needs Now is Love during a recital. He was due to perform his first solo shortly.

It is all about the children

“I’d say Kronendal Music Academy is a home for children. We learn from them. We are friends to them also. Everything that we do here is concerning the kids,” says Petelo. He does a lot around here, fixes what needs care and nurture: whining, heavy doors; squeaky, loose instruments, broken hearts. Formerly an employee at the James House Home for Children, a colleague mentioned his name to Griesel, who started the academy with an inheritance of only 150,000 South African Rand. 

The school offers musical education for 108 children. The only music school in Hout Bay, it works on a hybrid social entrepreneurship model in which students who can afford the fees subsidise its charity arm. Holding a bachelor  degree in Jazz Studies, Griesel says that she’s been playing the piano “since before I was born.” We’re standing in the garden. Above us, fragmented piano chords waft in the space above us, mingled with the scent of spice from the kitchen, laughter from somewhere inside.
  • The Kronendal Music Academy in South Africa from outside.  Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe
    The Kronendal Music Academy in South Africa from outside.
  • Children in the Kronendal Music Academy Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe
    Children in the Kronendal Music Academy
  • Music class at the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay. Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe
    Music class at the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town.
  • Piano at the entrance of the Kronendal Music Academy Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe
    Piano at the entrance of the Kronendal Music Academy
  • Music lessons at the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay. Photo (detail): © Thabang Radebe
    Music lessons at the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay, South Africa.
  • A large lounge and reception area in the Kronendal Music Academy in Hout Bay. Foto (Detail): © Thabang Radebe
    A large lounge and reception area in the Kronendal Music Academy
“To be honest, the pandemic is tough on everyone, but we strive best during crisis.” Grisel speaks in a start-stop fashion. Taking long pauses to gather her thoughts before the last few months come tumbling out of her mouth. “We were very sad that we couldn't continue our activities the way we used to, but we jumped straight into other areas of supporting our families.”

The academy not only provides a place to learn music, but it's also an after school programme; feeding the students, helping them with homework, and tending to their psychosocial needs. With the hard lockdown keeping many indoors, the academy fed upwards of 450 families in Hout Bay.

Adapting to new realities

During the hard lockdown, lessons moved to Whatsapp, with facilitators recording lessons and sending them straight to their students. Around June 2020, when the lockdown restrictions began to loosen, students were able to return to theacademy, with facilitators teaching online. In August 2020, the teachers began to slowly filter back into the building but it was only in April 2021 that they started to work again in sectional practices. But where the pandemic impacted the school the hardest, was through a decrease in the support and funding that keeps the project running.

“We take it very seriously that our teachers and staff rely on their work for their livelihoods and that was just stopped abruptly with nothing to fall back on, no support from the government, nothing. And without them, KMA would just crumble,” continues Griesel.

“In our poorest communities, a real lockdown wasn't possible. It was completely unrealistic to expect children to be isolated, confined to their shacks and houses. So we found that children were more exposed to trauma, neglect and abuse. And we had to take care of them. We had to make sure they had a place to go, and people they could talk to. And we have subsequently noticed the effects that the pandemic has had on our children and their families in terms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), delayed stress… all the psychosocial traumatic indicators of this pandemic started unfolding over the last six months.” So one of the big decisions the academy made at the beginning of 2022 was to commence with a music therapy programme, which now runs on a daily basis. Recent studies have proven the positive neurological effects of music on the treatment of brain injuries, PTSD and other trauma related illnesses.

“The beginning of the lockdown, it was like a domino effect,” sighs Griesel. “We realised we can't just provide music education for our children, we have to make sure that they’re looked after on all different levels. “