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‘When Voices Meet’ touches upon strong themes

My mom is from South Africa and grew up during Apartheid. I’ve always asked her for personal stories about her experiences, but for some reason, she didn’t have many. So when I saw “When Voices Meet” as part of the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, it proved educational, inspiring and deeply moving. Perhaps it was because of my lack of knowledge about the era, but the general audience all seemed to have the same reaction. The film was followed by a performance, and the audience was encouraged to join in the festive and addictive nature of the songs. Maybe in writing, “When Voices Meet” was just a featured film in a festival, but for all the viewers, it was much more.

“When Voice’s Meet” follows the journey of The Peace Train. When Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison, 15-year-old Sharon Katz decided it was also her job to do what she could to combat Apartheid. And what she could do was music. Katz traveled to schools in the Black, Indian, Colored and White areas of South Africa to teach her music to schoolchildren. Then, in 1992, Katz and co-founder of The Peace Train, Nonhlanhla Wanda, gathered all 500 children together for a concert. The project soon developed into The Peace Train, which toured South Africa on a train, bringing the diverse choir to many cities, and eventually to America.

The film had plenty of material. Katz was filmed venturing to segregated areas and interacting with children of all races. The documentary switched between footage of the violence in South Africa, violence between black communities and the police, interviews of Katz, other important people in the development of the choir, and past choir participants. When talking to the participants, a lightened circle appeared around the participant in the recorded footage. This allowed for direct comparison. Choir participants explained how wonderful the opportunity was and how it not only introduced them to children they may not have met otherwise, but also helped build self-confidence.

As I watched, it struck me that my mom only ever mentioned the Apartheid in passing. She talked about how she used to give food to the poor black children, but that was the extent of her stories. She lived a sheltered life, where she was aware, but never exposed to the terrors the black community faced. The film reiterated how many of the Indian and Colored areas were unaware of the full extent of the situation.

When I asked Katz about the extent of the violence, she explained that often the white government would try to defend their actions by labeling the black communities as violent. However, it was actually the police who would paint their faces black, and go to the black territories just to start violence. The police would present this as evidence. It was the sick, twisted nature of the government that kept the truth hidden, and Katz made it her mission to combat this by revealing the true, good nature of the people.

In an interview with Katz, I asked her if, being a social rights activist changed her opinion about everyday situations. I asked her if living through Apartheid, did she recognize an apartheid state in other conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She responded, “It’s hard for me, being a Jew, but I believe when anyone’s rights are being taken away, that’s all wrong. All rights need to be respected. Palestine has been an occupied nation for some time. And it’s hard because the Jews need a state too. They definitely need a peace train there. But it’s hard to compare the situations. I wouldn’t only talk about Israel and Palestine, there’s also the situations in Syria, Congo and Darfur.”

Katz’s personality reflected exactly what the participants’ interviews explained in the film. She was open, interested, aware and an all-around good soul. Her work was successful in maintaining Nelson Mandela’s vision of a new South Africa and had an everlasting impact on those who participated, and viewers, like me, who had the privilege of seeing the journey through film.

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