Even his name, Axolile, has a musical ring to it; music is on his lips and in his heart and it shines through in his wide, generous smile. This multi-award-winning young musician is living his dream, not, as one might expect, as an acclaimed performer, but as a teacher.
Growing up in the Botanical Gardens in Caledon where his mother worked, Axolile Hoza’s roots have struck deep into the soil of the Overberg. As both a talented flautist and a singer, his prowess has taken him all over Europe and America, as well as to Tanzania, but now, aged 25 he has returned to the start of things, determined to open the doors of musical excellence to other children growing up in similar circumstances to his own.
It could not be more fitting that Axolile has not only returned to his geographical origins, but also to his first music teacher, Stefné van Dyk of Handevat Music in Kleinmond, where he has just been appointed the group’s first Artistic Director.
Quietly spoken and unpretentious, Axolile has grabbed every opportunity life has thrown his way and squeezed every drop from it. Although he is one of six children, all of whom enjoy music, he is the only one who has made it his own. “I think I inherited it from my grandmother,” he smiles. “She was a good singer.” When he was in Grade 7 at Swartberg Primary School, he started taking recorder lessons with Stefné and also joined the school choir. And from then on, there was no stopping him.
At high school, continuing his classes with Stefné, he started flying through UNISA and Stellenbosch University theory and performance exams with unprecedented speed, achieving Roll of Honour status year after year with marks of above 90%, and finally, a distinction in Music for matric. At the same time he regularly obtained cum laude awards at local eisteddfods and other competitions, as well as winning Stellenbosch University’s prestigious GGM Gordon Trophy, after only one and a half years of study. Not only did he excel in music, but in drama, public speaking and languages as well (he speaks English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and German), and began to assist with the training of young marimba players.
Once enrolled at Stellenbosch University where he won one of four best-candidate bursaries for Bmus, his upward trajectory went into orbit. Although, as a little boy he says he longed to be able to play the violin, he chose the flute as his premier instrument, making his orchestral debut at the age of 19 with the University of Stellenbosch Student Orchestra (USSO) and also with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. In that same year, as a member of the Stellenbosch University Choir under the baton of André van der Merwe, he took part in the World Choir Games in Cincinnati.
“It was a very exciting experience for me,” remembers Axolile. “It was the first time I had been on a plane and my first time out of the country. Before, when I was still at school, if we went to perform in Swellendam, it was an adventure.”
Although the choir was a category winner at that event, two years later, in Riga, Latvia, (Axolile’s first trip to Europe) the choir was crowned grand champion, achieving a new world record score of 99%. And so it went throughout his five years at Stellenbosch University, participating in performances of the USSO as a soloist and orchestra member, as well as the Wind Band and the Stellenbosch University Choir. As if that were not enough, in his senior years, he began to tutor younger students and was actively involved in some of Stefné van Dyk’s marimba band outreach projects.
Axolile’s musical life has been characterised by a string of special moments, but two stand out for him. Although he had participated in master classes by several top musicians, both in this country and abroad, in 2016, he was privileged to attend a series of master classes by renowned flautist, Raffaelle Trevisani in Milan, immediately followed by a trip to Switzerland to participate, together with between 60 and 80 other professional and master flautists from around the world in the Galway Flute Festival organised by the legendary Sir James Galway.
“It was the greatest honour of my life,” he says, “not only to meet, but also to be taught by this living legend.” They were there for two weeks and at the end of the festival, Galway presented Axolile with a solid silver flute which had been custom-made for him by Gemeinhardt, in recognition of his special talent.
More recently, in 2018, he was invited to join the MIAGI Youth Orchestra’s two-month tour of Europe to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary year. Under the baton of rising star Duncan Ward, former assistant to Sir Simon Rattle, they performed in six countries in fabled concert halls like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Berliner Konzerthaus and the Yehudi Menuhin Hall at the European Parliament in Brussels. They also had the privilege of opening the Gustaf Mahler Festival in Toblach, Italy.
“We received standing ovations everywhere we went,” he laughs, “particularly for the orchestral suite, ‘Rainbow Beats’ which was specially composed by Duncan Ward in tribute to Madiba’s dream for our country. Between these two experiences I managed to obtain my Diploma in Music Performance and Advanced Diploma Cum Laude in Music Performance at Stellenbosch University, but my travels really changed my whole perspective on the power of music and its international impact.
“Music is the one common language we all share. The interaction with musicians from all over the world also helped me refine my technique and influenced my whole approach to playing. I have always been very disciplined in following a strict practise routine and these experiences underlined the importance of maintaining it, whether I am performing or not.”
While he was on the Mandela tour, Axolile accepted an offer of a job as Head of the Music Department and teacher at the Arusha Meru International School in Arusha, Tanzania. Much as he enjoyed performing, he felt strongly pulled towards his African roots to pass on his skills and his passion for music to the next generation. Leaving Arusha for the recent mid-year school holidays, he carried in his pocket a contract for another year’s employment there.
As usual, on his return to Caledon, he contacted Stefné to get an update on her Handevat activities. As soon as she saw him, she knew she could not let him leave again. This was where he belonged – fullstop. So she scrambled around for additional funds until she was able to offer him the position of part-time Artistic Director and teacher at Handevat Music for two days a week.
Being a multi-tasker of note, he obtained additional teaching work for another two days a week at the Lucky Point project in Bot River, teaming up with his old friend, Llewelyn Adonis, another of Stefné’s early pupils. From October this year, the fifth day of the week will be devoted to working on an outreach project for Hermanus FynArts, teaching the basics of music literacy to ECD children and their teachers in Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant.
Axolile is very excited about the challenges that lie ahead of him. “My greatest wish is to see that children from poor communities receive music training of as high a standard as those in high-fee schools. At least 80% of the pupils currently at Handevat have the potential to become professional musicians and helping a child succeed is more satisfying to me than winning acclaim for my own performances.”