As a small boy growing up in Port Elizabeth, not unnaturally, Luvo Maranti far preferred playing with his friends to going to choir practice at the church. However, having been born into an extended family of music makers, especially in the choral tradition, he was never going to get away with that, particularly as it was clear that he had inherited the musical genes. Indeed, by the age of 10 he was already the Sunday school choir conductor and lead singer.
At home, the family used to organise their own in-house concerts, with Grandpa singing bass, Dad, a talented choir conductor and composer, singing tenor; Mom, soprano and Luvo, alto. But when he was about 13 years old his voice broke and he was left wondering if that was the end of his singing career. Noting his anxiety, his father presented him with an inspired gift: a music cassette featuring the world famous tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.
“I was absolutely blown to bits,” he remembers. “I couldn’t believe that anybody could sound like that. I found it amazing that he was actually able to make a living out of singing. From then on, Pavarotti was my idol; I played that cassette until there was nothing left of it and I knew for sure, I wanted to be him.” Fortunately Luvo turned out to be a tenor, too, and that was the first step towards realising his dream.
Having been a member of successful choirs at primary and high school, in his mind there was no question that he would go on to study music at university, but once again, his family had other ideas. Instead of supporting his passion as he thought they would, they were adamant that he should obtain a qualification that would guarantee an income. After all, three younger siblings also needed an education.
Luvo registered for a Human Resources degree at Fort Hare University, but unwilling to give up his dream, he joined the university choir, both as a chorister and a soloist. For six years it won the SATICA national intervarsity championships, including the period he was a student. He expanded his musical knowledge, discovering the works of great operatic composers like Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini, Mozart. By the time he graduated in 2017, he was more in love with opera than ever before.
In the meantime his father had accepted a job with SA Breweries in Caledon and the family had moved to Hermanus. “I was very lucky to be taken on as an intern at Abagold and when Lou-Anne Lubbe, the HR Manager noticed on my CV that I had had singing experience, she asked if I would like to take on the responsibility of conducting the Abagold choir. Of course, I jumped at the chance. And that led to my next big break.
“That year, 2018, as part of the FynArts Festival, the FynArts Development Programme presented a singing master class by the late George Stevens, Acting Director of the College of Music at UCT. Abagold made it possible for me, as well as my parents, to attend. It was an incredible experience.”
So impressed was Stevens with Luvo’s talent that he encouraged him to enrol at the College of Music. Still not convinced that he would be good enough to make it in the highly competitive European operatic arena, his father expressed reservations. George brushed them aside, saying that if Luvo was prepared to work hard, he could virtually guarantee his success. Grandpa was consulted and although he, too, was doubtful, he finally agreed that Luvo should follow his passion.
With the encouragement of FynArts Festival Director Mary Faure, and Tim Hedges and Lou-Anne Lubbe of Abagold, he passed his audition at the Music School with flying colours, embarking on the course in March 2019. The university identified a sponsor for his tuition fees and offered to pay for his accommodation and food for the first year. But if Luvo thought he was going to the Music School just to work on his singing, that notion was soon blown out of the water.
Not only did the course include music theory and modules on a variety of musical genres, but he was also required to play a musical instrument, in addition to voice training. That meant learning to play the piano from scratch, and although his father had taught him to read music, deciphering the notes while playing the piano took multi-tasking to a different level.
He also found that in order to understand what he was singing, he needed to learn Italian (with German and French to follow in the next two years). Then there was literature, diction, stagecraft and acting. He also sang in the chorus of the College’s annual opera production. Somewhat to his amazement, he passed all his subjects with an average of 70%, obtaining two distinctions.
During the December holidays, he has been working at Abagold again and CEO, Tim Hedges is determined to help Luvo keep his dream alive. He arranged for him to entertain the share-holders at Abagold’s most recent AGM and they were equally inspired by his talent. As he says, “We are very proud of what Luvo has achieved during his first year at the Music School and although his anonymous sponsor has undertaken to pay his tuition fees every year if he continues to pass, he needs additional funding for his accommodation, food, books and transport. He also needs to be able to enter for singing competitions – maybe even take a trip to Europe to experience the opera scene and some of the great opera houses for himself. These are the tools of his trade.
“We have helped Luvo to launch a group funding initiative on the back-a-buddy platform, with a target of R87 000 for the year. The money will be channelled through the Abagold Development Trust, a registered NPO with Section 18A tax benefits for donors. In addition, he will be looking for opportunities to raise funds by performing at weddings and other functions. Actually, what we’re doing is inviting others to join Luvo on his inspirational journey to become the new Pavarotti – the African Pavarotti.”
Luvo, together with a couple of other up-and-coming young musicians like flautist, Axolile Hosa will this year be presenting a concert at the FynArts Festival from 5 – 16 June, under the guidance of local musician Louna Stoffberg. He still finds it hard to realise that he is finally living the dream and like other South African singers like Pretty Yende and Levy Lekgapane who are making it big on foreign stages, he is passionate about introducing other young people to the power and joy of music.
To help Luvo on his journey to become an opera star you can click on https://www.backabuddy.co.za/luvomaranti