Soweto String Quartet

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The story opens with three young boys trundling down Soweto’s dusty roads in the turbulent 60s. Armed with attitude, violins and cellos, targeted with jeers, sniggers and taunts from the locals, the Khemese brothers ventured bravely to music lessons.

Forbidden by their parents to hang out on the hostile streets, the boys cut their teeth in African choral music and took to playing those funny Euro instruments, mastering them with a natural born ease. The seed had been sown.

In 1978 the dusty road began to clear. Soweto String Quartet was born comprising of Sandile Khemese (1st Violin), Richard Mantu (2nd Violin), Joshua Thelele (Viola) and Reuben Khemese (Cello).

In 1979 Soweto String Quartet (SSQ) was invited to Aberdeen in Haddo House, Scotland, to perform for Lady Aberdeen. This was one of the greatest chances which put the Quartet on the international map.

In 1980 Sandile Khemese and Richard Mantu got a scholarship to attend music studies at the Dartington College of Arts in England. In 1982 attended at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester until 1986.

While Sandile and Richard were in England in 1980 Soweto Youth String Quartet comprising of Arthur Mahlatsi (1st Violin), Thami Khemese (2nd Violin), Makhosini Mnguni (Viola) and Duma Skhosana (Cello) was formed. These were the strong players of the String sections of the Soweto Symphony Orchestra after the members of Soweto String Quartet. 

In 1981 Soweto Youth String Quartet was performing in the neighbouring schools and churches. In 1982 they made a studio recording of Divertimento K136 by Mozart on the SABC Programme called Iminkininizo. In 1983 Soweto Youth String Quartet attended the Eistaad Ford Music Competition in Roodepoort. 

In 1985 Adcock-Ingram, a pharmaceutical company, announced Thami Khemese and Makhosini Mnguni as the recipients of the Adcock-Ingram Scholarship to attend the 1985-1986 South African National Orchestral Course at the University of Natal and the University of Bloemfontein.

In 1986, armed with new music skills, culture, language and life-style; Sandile Khemese and Richard Mantu returned to a politically and hostile South Africa. The Soweto String Quartet was re-born once again, to include Thami Khemese and boyhood friend Makhosini Mnguni. 

The Soweto String Quartet sometimes affectionately known as SSQ is a world renowned South African Brand. For many years SSQ has performed around the world as Ambassadors for the new South Africa. SSQ is not your ordinary classic music band. The music is not conventional string quartet sound but uniquely African. It is unique blend of traditional rhythms, township jazz, mbaqanga, pop songs, jazz-fusion and strong classical influences. Their music is a good to soul fusion of the dance rhythms of kwela, the syncopated guitars of Mbaqanga, the saxophone and trumpets of swaying African jazz and the voices of people singing joyous easy harmony. SSQ was originally made up of three brothers Reuben, Sandile and Thami And a bosom friend Makhosini Mnguni and since the passing of eldest brother; Reuben, Themba (a son to an old friend/fellow musician) has since joined the Talent.

There was an inspiration for children learning violins and aspiring to be like the SSQ. This gave rise to SSQ’s songs played and recorded by the most youth orchestras i.e. Baskaid String Project. The SSQ has thus far celebrated more than 25 years of creating quality music and derive sheer driving pleasure of BMW.

This Quartet became a full-time professional outfit in 1992 and has continued to perform in prominent events across the globe, one such an event was a performance at the historical Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration. Many other historical performances have taken place since then. The Soweto String Quartet has touched people’s lives within the African continent and beyond. 

Its relevance to the social issues brought hope during a tense transition from apartheid to liberation, therefore set itself apart, separated and far ahead of its peers. Throughout the preceding years, the sweet sound of the group has evolved with the times but maintaining the group’s essence of creating sounds of African heartbeat and soul that espouses music for its soul survival. 

On top of mind, when one talks about successful musical groups in Soweto, the Soweto String Quartet lands easily on the list of sustainable musical organizations. The group has defined itself as a pioneer of greatness and ultimate reference point in the genre of music it has come to be known about the world over stringing its way to the mountain top. It is a brand that goes beyond monotonous putting together of musical instrument but theirs is an immaculate blend and discreet selection of sound that tells the great South African stories in particular and Africa in general.

An estimated 20 Million number of people have been reached through album sales since the band’s inception. The reach is of loyal album collectors as well as new audience reached through dedicated projects such as the 2006 Gospel Album that saw sales of more than 50 000 and the previous Afrikaans Album that went platinum after a week of sales. 

The classical nature of the music makes for longevity within the purchasers’ household and making for valuable gifts. 

With the unique positioning of SSQ in terms of its music and performance, SSQ believes that corporate companies, government and festival attendees stand to benefit tremendously from their performances. This benefit is based on the fact that SSQ is not mass-market music, yet very popular.

Individuals that attend SSQ shows and functions are individuals of awesome uniqueness. These individuals have a unique desire of achievement, responsibility and accountability. This is a class of achievers; hence the positioning of SSQ.