It was truly a night to remember when two new singing stars were crowned at Saturday’s SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition final in Johannesburg. 

At a Linder Auditorium bursting at its seams with music lovers, 24-year-old Levy Sekgapane (Western Art music) and 21 year-old Zoe Modiga (jazz) were named the winners of this year’s competition for singers.

They have each won a R200 000 (South Africa’s most lucrative competitive music scholarship) to further their music studies, or enrol in specialist master classes, abroad – plus the honour of having their names on the SAMRO Foundation’s roll of honour, joining 68 fellow scholarships alumni since 1962. Prize money for 2015 was raised from R170 000, and announced on the night. 

It was a dazzling evening of music, elevated by knockout vocal performances by the four finalists, all in their 20s and all brimming with youthful talent and promise: Levy Sekgapane and Andiswa Makana (Western Art music) and Zoë Modiga and Amy Campbell (jazz). 

Three of the four singers studied music at the University of Cape Town; one graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). 

The theme of this year’s scholarships competition was the National Development Plan (NDP) and its vision for a future South Africa. 

As such, the SAMRO Foundation had commissioned four composers – Neo Muyanga, Marcus Wyatt, Christo Jankowitz and James Bassingthwaighte – to write new songs inspired by the preamble to the NDP, which was penned by University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Professor Njabulo Ndebele and poet Antjie Krog. These new compositions were performed by candidates in the intermediate and final rounds. 

Prof Ndebele was also the keynote speaker on the night, at an event attended by the arts world’s glitterati. In welcoming him, SAMRO Foundation managing director André le Roux expressed his fervent hope that the positive vision laid out in the NDP roadmap would reach fruition with the help and inclusion of the arts community. 

Having progressed through from Thursday’s intermediate round, in which 12 semi-finalists competed, the four singers gave it their all during Saturday night’s finals. 

While performing their own choice of repertoire as well as the prescribed commissioned works (the jazz number Connected by Wyatt and the Western Art song Dream of a Rainbow by Jankowitz), they pulled out all the vocal stops to impress the adjudicators. 

The high-level judging panel, chaired by Leon van Wyk, included two dual-genre panelists, Karendra Devroop and Sibongile Khumalo. They were joined by Western Art music adjudicators Eugenie Chopin, Lize Coetzer, Conroy Cupido, Hanna van Niekerk and Thami Zungu; and jazz adjudicators Gloria Bosman, Motsumi Makhene, Sibongile Mngoma, Nicky Schrire and Lydia vom Hagen. 

The audience were also afforded the rare privilege of hearing two original Gerard Sekoto jazz compositions, Africa and Igoli, arranged by Bassingthwaighte and performed by the TUT Big Band and singer Shaun Jacobs. These songs are among several written while the artist was in exile in Paris. 

Furthermore, an exhibition and sale of limited-edition Sekoto prints and posters, to celebrate the Gerard Sekoto Foundation’s partnership with the SAMRO Foundation, proved a roaring success. 

In addition to the two overseas scholarships, a number of merit and subsidiary awards were handed out to outstanding finalists and semi-finalists, including Khanyiso Gwenxane, Mikhaela Kruger, Nombuso Ndlandla, Makudupanyane Senaoana and Amy Walton. The two runners-up each received R70 000 (also increased from prior awards of R40 000), bringing the total prize money to over R500 000 – a handsome investment in music education to link with the ideals set out in the NDP. 

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