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Rebuild Zimbabwe with a shot of Jesus blood – by Petroc Trelawney

Another of our special correspondents, BBC Radio 3′s Petroc Trelawney, has set up a chairty to help boost the music academy in Bulawayo. It’s a brave thing for him to do. The last time Petroc was in Zimbabwe, he got arrested and roughed up. Please support this admirable cause by donating to the address below. Here’s Petroc’s report – exclusive to Slipped Disc: 

Sir John Barbirolli laid the foundation stone for Bulawayo’s Academy of Music 60 years ago next May.  He was visiting with the Halle Orchestra,  who took Vaughan William’s Sinfonia Antartica to the parched veldt of Africa.  In the years since Zimbabwean independence in 1980,  Bulawayo’s municipal symphony orchestra and choral society have collapsed.  But its Academy of Music kept going and still exists, defying violence, political uncertainty and years of acute inflation.  Each week nearly 200 students turn up to study subjects including piano, violin, voice and percussion.

That the Academy has survived is largely thanks to the enthusiasm of its director Michael Bullivant, a former Latin teacher who worked wonders to keep the building open in the days when a fifty billion Zimbabwe dollar note was common currency, and buying bread required a journey to neighbouring Botswana.

Three years ago, after a trip to the biennial Bulawayo Arts Festival, composer and music educator Richard Sisson (formerly of comedy duo Kit and the Widow) and I decided to form a charity to help the Academy’s work.   It soon became clear that in order to have a healthy future,  it needed to reach out to a much broader audience,  that better reflected the mix of modern Zimbabwe.

This year our charity,  BZAM  - British Friends of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music  (UK Reg. 1140488) teamed up with local partners to launch the Bulawayo Schools Music Project.   Some 500 children took part in our first event,  a community cantata called Song of the Carnivores which filled Bulawayo’s City Hall twice over.  Last week, 150 starred in a series of Christmas concerts,  including the African premiere of Gavin Bryars’s seminal minimalist work Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet’   The children came from twelve Bulawayo Schools, some in the city centre but the majority based in the townships of the outer Western Suburbs,  the poorest district..   Already their teachers, hard pressed and with little time to focus on more than maths and English,  are demanding to know what the next project will be, and how their children can be involved.

We’ve now secured support funding from the British Council to roll out BSMP over the next few years.  We hope to start a weekly Saturday music school for thirty children in January, with 100 involved every week by the end of the year.   We have started bursaries for talented children who can’t afford lessons.  We fund teachers salaries, and have brokered deals to supply music and Sibelius computer equipment.   BZAM has also funded visits by music educators and performers including the vocal coach Mary King,  South African bass-baritone Njabulo Madlala,  and flautist Juliette Bausor, who all took part in Song of the Carnivores as well as a pan-community production of Carmina Burana earlier this year.


Despite the British Council’s support,  we still need to raise a substantial amount of money ourselves to help the project grow.  Find out more at our website,,   where  a blog will keep you updated on our activities.  And if you’d like to donate this Christmas,  send cheques,  payable to BZAM to The Mill,  Breachwood Green, Nr Hitchin, Herts. SG4 8PH.


Thanks for reading -  I’ll keep you updated with progress via Slipped Disc.

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