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Notes from the Road
by Dennis Warner
L-R Dan Neale, DW, Paul Sutherland and Tammy Anhalt-Warner. Paul is the CEO of STEPi, the organization that published Beads on One String in South Africa and is responsible for bringing us here!
Pumeza Macingwane from the STEPi Foundation with Tammy in Johannesburg. Pumeza was our team leader there and did an
amazing job for us.
Our last photo after arriving in Minnesota after 20 hours in the air.
L-R Dan Neale, Tammy Anhalt-Warner, Pat Curto, Pam Krueger, Dennis Warner
March 18, 2023
38,000 feet above where the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic Oceans meet, between South America and Africa!
When all the planning started for this concert tour, we wanted to experience the real South Africa, engaging with communities and getting a better understanding of the diverse cultures in the vast country. Our South African team included the STEPi Foundation, Mandelwa Creatives and Dreamcatcher South Africa. They took care of scheduling all of our needs like transportation, lodging, concert bookings and fun things to do on our days off. They were all terrific to work with.
The reason we are here is Beads on One String, the song and children's book I wrote years ago. Paul Sutherland, the CEO of the STEPi Foundation saw me perform in Toronto in 2018. During COVID, he called me up with this crazy idea of distributing 20,000 copies of Beads on One String, at his expense, to schools and community's, mostly in South Africa. STEPi accomplished that goal and to no ones surprise, Beads on One String was very well received by the locals, just as it is in the U.S. schools. In 2022, we began trying to figure out how to arrange a concert tour in this beautiful country.
I organized a team at home to make this journey with me, which included my bandmates Danny Neale (guitar/vocals), Pat Curto (percussion/vocals), my wife Tammy and Pat's wife Pam. Tammy and Pam would be the videographers, documenting this concert tour as best they could while still experiencing the culture for themselves.
Tammy was our team leader in regular zoom meeting communications with STEPi, Mandelwa Creatives and Dreamcatcher in the months leading up to our departure from Minnesota in February.
This trip has been like no other I have been on. The diversity of cultures, languages and even the wildlife makes South Africa stand apart from other places I've been. For example, there are eleven official languages in South Africa! This is one reason Beads on One String is having an impact here. Schools are trying to teach everyone English, so they can all communicate with each other. Educators feel that music is a great way to learn a new language, especially a song that's uptempo, fun and carries the right message.
Another reason, and equally if not more important than helping the kids with their English skills, is to address bullying issues. With all the diversity in South Africa, just like in the U.S., there are things going on that need to be dealt with and corrected. We saw that first hand in the South African schools where I involved myself in a positive way a few different times. And that's the way to change the narrative, to just jump in and become involved. It's not okay to bully or to be mean to someone just because they look or talk differently than we do. Don't repeat jokes or stories that belittle or make fun of an individual or their culture. Do pay attention and do act (react?) appropriately if we want to change a behavior.
Beads is a unifying song about our connectedness with each other like beautiful beads on a necklace. This whole adventure would not have happened had I not listened to the "muse" the day I wrote the song driving home from a concert in Champaign, Illinois so many years ago.
And so many intersections have been crossed in this life-long career, where taking a different road would've led to a different conclusion.
I am grateful. I am truly blessed. And I can't wait to go back and continue what we started the last few weeks, bringing love, a message of acceptance and all the positive energy we could muster up to the great people of South Africa.
L-R Dan Neale - Dennis Warner - Pat Curto on the beach.
The penguins didn't pay much attention to us. We were grateful to
see them! Hundreds of them!
They are called "Jackass Penguins" because of the noise they apparently make while mating (think donkey sounds...)
South of Cape Town.
Penguins on the beach
Anti-apartheid protester and human rights advocate Nelson Mandela
spent 18 years in this cell on Robbyn Island,
Cape Town, South Africa.
1976 in front of Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Johannesburg. The police would chase the apartheid protesters into the church and shoot them. The bullet holes still remain.
With Danny Dube outside Regina Mundi Catholic
March 17, 2023
Cape Town, South Africa
We are at the airport, waiting on our 9:30pm flight home.
Yesterday, we took a boat ride out to Robbyn Island, about 7 kilometers (4+ miles) from Cape Town. This is where Nelson Mandela and many other human rights activists were sentenced for their opposition to apartheid. Apartheid, an Afrikaans word for "apartness", was the law from 1948-1994 created by the Nationalist Party that allowed for legally enforcing racial separation of blacks, mixed race and whites.
Mandela spent 18 years at Robbyn Island before being transferred to other prisons, eventually being released in 1990. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, then became the first President of new democratic South Africa in 1994. He worked hard at racial reconciliation after apartheid came to an end with his election. Mr. Mandela is a hero wherever we traveled in South Africa.
In Johannesburg earlier this month, I stood in the exact place where Mandela stood delivering a speech after being released. Danny Dube was there that day and he gave us an in depth tour and a first hand narrative of the apartheid protests. The historic church still has visible bullet holes inside from police chasing and shooting at apartheid protesters who sought shelter inside the church. Regina Mundi is the largest Catholic Church in South Africa and is indeed sacred ground here.
Visiting Robbyn Island prison brought us a good amount of dark energy yesterday, it was wonderful to counter that today with beach time and penguins! And it was baby season, so we were close up with the family. Lots of penguins who really didn't even acknowledge our existence. They just go about their lives while we walk next to them. It would've been fun to take out the guitar and see if music would get a reaction, but that wasn't possible.
This was about 60 minutes from Cape Town. Our driver knew right where to go to see penguins. Afterward, it was a gorgeous drive back along the coast. Being it was rush hour, the main route into Cape Town was clogged up so our driver apologized and took us on a quicker drive through Khayelitsha Township. At 77 square miles, our driver said it's the largest and poorest township in South Africa. Previously we were told Soweto (where we visited on our first day) had that "honor", but it doesn't really matter, right? You can't help feeling sadness looking at their living conditions. Most have no running water.
We made it to the airport with no issues. No one in our group was looking forward to the 16 hour flight to Atlanta, followed by another 3+ hours to Minneapolis. We had a leisurely supper and made our way to the gate to wait..
Regina Mundi Catholic Church on our visit. It's seen the best and
of people in it's lifetime.
Standing inside Regina Mundi, in the very spot where Nelson Mandela spoke
before being elected President of South Africa in 1994. Bishop Desmond Tutu
also spoke from this platform several times during the anti-apartheid protests.
And in 2011, Michelle Obama filled the church for what Danny Dube descibed
as a powerful, inspirational message.
L-R Pam Krueger, Pat Curto, Dennis Warner,
Anhalt-Warner and Dan Neale
March 15, 2023
Cape Town, South Africa
Today was our last show on the tour. I'm feeling sad about that. Usually after a concert tour of this length, I'm ready to head home and sleep for a couple of days. I don't feel that here. These shows have been energizing. The response to my music fills me with gratitude. It doesn't matter if I'm singing for adults or the kids, I feel their love and want to stay here, at least for a while, but that's not possible.
We took a photo with the pre-school class in Darling, South Africa. It was over 100 degrees F outside. Maybe 115 inside? Whew! I'm not bragging when I say I was really hot that day! :)
Tonight we said goodbye to Elmordine (Board of Directors of DreamCatchers), Anthea (CEO and founder of Dreamcatchers) and our driver the last couple of weeks, Ineka. Really incredible, sweet and dedicated human beings. We will miss them.
For the next couple of days we will have a new driver keeping track of us. Please pray for him!
The kids have their Beads on One String books ready!
They love to dance in Nuy!
Almost ready to start in Robertson, South Africa
Mama Esme invited us to her home in Stellenbosch
for a traditional South African homemade meal. One of my favorite
foods in South Africa is Chakalaka,
a spicy vegetable dish.
I was happily surprised that Mama Esme made
this for us. Hers was outstanding!
March 14, 2023
Nuy, South Africa
It's Tuesday today, I think? The days are blending together as we've been on the road a while now. Only a few of us are awake in the van as we are heading to Cape Town for the night. It's me, our driver Ineka and one of the board members from DreamCatcher, Elmordine. The others are all snoozing away! We are approaching the Huguenot Tunnel on highway N1. Try google maps to see where we are!
This past weekend we performed for a group of at risk teenage girls in a smaller community. They were a wonderful, joyful bunch. Then we had a day and a half of R&R in the picturesque town of Montegu. Our hosts provided a tour of the countryside in a 1956 Cadillac. We learned a lot of the history of the region.
Yesterday we had fun in Robertson where we set up for our concert on their soccer field! The weather is definitely warming up with temps into the 80's F. Once again, it was all smiles with these great kids. They love to sing!
Today we visited the Nuystasie Primary School. These kids didn't speak a lot of English, but they are learning, and it didn't stop them from singing along. According to the leaders, this is a very poor school without much opportunity for the kids beyond the basics. The teachers are dedicated, as teachers are! There are about 85 kids here and the amazing thing is that even the youngest ones have amazing rhythm in clapping along. We've found this to be true at every show in South Africa.
We are now about 99 kilometers (62 miles) from our destination.
Herbertsdale, South Africa
Dennis with new friend Kelly
The kids read along to Beads on One String as I tell the story of how the song and book came together. In many cases, this is the first book they've owned.
In the background, the houses where almost all of these kids live.
Class photo after the concert in Stilbaii, South Africa
March 11, 2023
Montegu, South Africa
It's been a rough few days for me. There's been a cold passing through the band and with my turn on the receiving end comes a loss of singing voice. We can't just cancel or reschedule these shows. Planning for this tour has been in the works for a long time.
So I've powered through as best I can. We reworked the songs so on the verses it's more of a spoken word from me, then the guys take over singing and leading the kids through the choruses. Fortunately, while Pat was the first to get the cold, his voice is almost back to normal now. Danny's a strong singer and will hopefully avoid this nasty bug. Nice to have backup!
So we performed a couple of shows in Stilbaii, staying at a B&B for two nights along the coast. We feel the division of wealth as these kids we are singing to come from poverty. We are receiving wonderful, expansive daily meals that would feed their families for the week. This is something that weighs heavily on our minds. We performed on the beach sand dunes for a special group of kids selected by their school administrator, just a few miles from their homes. Some of these kids had never been to the beach. Generally, they have no bicycles or cars in their families. If they do have a car, then expensive gas isn't wasted. It's a different mindset. Needless to say, after the concert it was fun to watch some of them splashing in the ocean!
It was indeed nice to walk the beach along the Indian Ocean. Exercise and fresh air. Also, I've never been in the southern hemisphere, where the night sky is a bit different. And yes, Stephen Stills, I did enjoy seeing "the southern cross for the first time"!
I made a new friend today. "Kelly" (not her real name) told me her story of strength and resilience and it tugged at my heart. Her parents were always fighting and decided to divorce. Kelly is now living with her Grandma and starting in a new school in a different town. Kelly is an English speaker. Her school in a larger town used English as it's primary language. Now she's in a more rural community where the kids at school speak Afrikaans, one of the eleven national languages of South Africa. While the other kids are trying to learn English, Kelly is having a hard time making friends and connecting because she doesn't speaks Afrikaans. Our conversation changed when she told me she used to play the piano a little bit at her old school and really misses that. Apparently, her new school doesn't have one. Ahhh, music. The UNIVERSAL language!
Dan Neale, the lead guitar player in my group and one of the most generous people I've ever met, tells me he would like to buy Kelly a keyboard. Wow! So Dennis, being the meddler, talks to the principal about this. It turns out, there is a piano at the school in a building Kelly wouldn't have visited in the few months she's been there. He brought me over to check out the old upright and I was pleasantly shocked to find it pretty much in tune. I asked him when he last tuned it and as far as he knows, it's never been tuned. That's amazing. There is no climate control (a/c) in any of these school buildings.
So, starting next semester, the principal will introduce Kelly to this piano and help her get into a music class. Yay!
Us musicians have to hang together! :)
With Melkhoutfonein Principal Reggie Baker. I had great conversations with all the school principals about their joys and challenges. Wonderful human beings.
March 7, 2023
Oudtshoorn, South Africa
The morning after the Johannesburg concert we hopped on a flight to Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth). We had a couple of days off to explore the beach and the ADDO Elephant National Park. Wow! We saw lots of Elephants! I also have a nice photo of a family of Warthogs, but I can't find it at the moment. Too many photos!
Danny and I enjoyed a visit to a wildlife rehab facility where we were allowed to pet the cheetahs. Oh my! You cat lovers would love the purrring.... sounds like a car. She was enjoying it and very comfortable with me, so the handlers let me scratch behind it's ears and do a little hip rub. What animals don't love those two things!
Then today we sang in Oudtshoorn, west of Gqeberha. With no facility to hold all the kids, they cleared out the parking lot and we made our own concert venue. We all had a great time!
^Note the guitar player by the teacher in pink. He has one string on
his guitar, the teacher is holding the microphone and he is wearing
a Dennis Warner mask!
^ Our concert at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, March 3, 2023.
Dan Neale - guitar/vocals
Pat Curto - percussion/vocals
March 3, 2023
Johannesburg, South Africa
We are stunned at the incredible reception we received today. This morning we arrived at Freedom Park Primary School in Johannesburg. I'm not clear if this school is considered part of Soweto Township.
As our van pulled in, it was obvious this wouldn't be a normal concert. We were met by an honor guard of students, all dressed up and standing at attention. After we greeted the kids and adults, they proceeded to put on a program for us right there in the parking lot. Drum Corp? I guess that's what it would be called. Wonderfully talented kids with a whole routine rehearsed for us. It was an emotional moment for many of us, and a greeting we will never forget. Watch the 3 minute video.
That lasted maybe 15 minutes? Then they invited us to walk a red carpet strewn with rose pedals through a covered walkway between buildings. When we arrived at the other side, there were 1,800 kids standing, applauding and cheering for us. The energy was indescribable. I've never experienced anything like this. Goosebumps and gratitude.
After a period of acknowledgment, for the next couple of hours we sat in the guest of honor chairs while the kids presented to us, by grade level, their interpretations of Beads on One String. One group even sang a rap version of Beads on One String, complete with one kid doing the beatbox vocal. I loved this! We did get a video of this and will make sure to post that as we get organized.
And another group (see photo) had a kid playing a guitar with ONE STRING, singing the song while the teacher held the microphone, all the while wearing a mask with my photo on it!
All of the programs were truly wonderful.
When all the grades were finished presenting to us, I took the stage and talked about Beads on One String and how grateful I was to be with them in Johannesburg. This is also where entertainer Trevor Noah grew up and is also one of the poorest areas in all of South Africa.
When it finally came time for me to sing, we realized they didn't have mic stands to hold the microphones, so we improvised with kids holding the microphones! Their arms grew tired but their spirit remained strong. We concluded with an extended version of "Beads on One String". They insisted on an encore, so we shared "Have a Little Faith in the World". A fitting song to conclude this beautiful experience.
I am forever grateful to the students and staff at Freedom Park, along with Pumeza Macingwane and Adele Kincaid-Smith from the STEPi Foundation for making this happe n.
The day wasn't over, though. That evening, after a tour of Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, we performed an inspired concert for adults and families on the site of the former prison that held Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and so many other freedom fighting political prisoners during apartheid. I can't wait to share video from this concert, as well. I appreciated my friend and Grammy Award winner Wouter Kellerman and his wife Thoelsi being in the crowd. We shared a few meals and a lot of laughs with them while we were in South Africa and appreciate their love and support.
At the end of the day, I'm exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
February 7, 2023
We are just a few weeks away from our flight to Johannesburg. The schedule is coming together nicely thanks to our team in South Africa. First concerts will be at Freedom Park and then Constitution Hill, both in Jo-Burg. Historically significant locations.
Here's a new video from a concert a couple of months ago with the Granite City Folk Society. It was a fun night! Lately, this has been the opening song at my performances.
These photos came in from schools in South Africa and Uganda
where they are using Beads on One String in their classrooms.
My heart is full of gratitude! Can't wait to sing for them.
January 14, 2023
Grand Marais, MN
We had a wonderful show at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts tonight. Amazing venue way up here along the north shore of Lake Superior, almost to Canada. It's called the "North Shore" but I've not figured out why as it's on the western side of Lake Superior. The true north shore should be along the Canadian side, right, eh?
We've video recorded quite a few concerts this year and I'm looking forward to putting some of these performances on YouTube this winter. If you haven't already, please subscribe to my YouTube channel so you'll automatically receive an email notification when I post something new there. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/warnersongs
I'm excited receive notifications this month that I've been awarded two grants! One is from the Minnesota State Arts Board for bringing my concerts to rural Minnesota. I received a similar grant last year and part of that is what brought us to Grand Marais, where I am tonight with the D's!
The second grant is from the Central Minnesota Arts Board and the McKnight Foundation for equipment that we'll bring on tour to South Africa this spring. Yay!
So a huge THANK YOU to both of these outstanding organizations for supporting my music. It truly takes a village to sustain a folk singer...