Growing our own Timber!

Read time: 4 mins

Sazi “Dimitri” Gcaba, a University of Fort Hare (UFH) Bachelor of Music graduate and opera-singing sensation who, during his time as a student, won several opera singing competitions and performed for the President of the country, has been appointed as the Acting Artistic Coordinator at the Eastern Cape Visuals Arts Centre (ECVAC) at Fort Hare.

This is a classic example of growing our own timber.

The 25-year-old from Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape was appointed to this new role on 1 August, three months after he crossed the graduation stage in May.  

Situated on the University’s Miriam Makeba Arts Centre on the East London campus, the ECVAC is a joint project between UFH and the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture (DSRAC). Its main objective is to develop and empower artists from the province in the areas of audio and visual.

Dr Siphe Potelwa, head of the Fine Arts Department, was recently appointed as Acting Director of the Centre.

As the Acting Artistic Coordinator, Sazi is tasked with the role of identifying musicians, of all genres, with raw talent who come from underprivileged backgrounds in the Eastern Cape, developing that talent and ultimately assisting them in recording their music at the state-of-the-art recording studio housed at the ECVAC.

In an interview with UFH Media, it was evident that his new role was a dream realized.

“I was in Grade 9 when I realized I could sing, and that I want to make a career out of it.”

However, at first his mother who raised him as a single parent, was not so fond of his career decision.

“She was concerned, and I understood. People tend to think that one cannot make a living out of singing. So, after matric, I enrolled for a qualification in civil engineering and after a year into the programme, I realized that it was not for me. With the guidance of my high school English Teacher and choir conductor, Mr Zandisile Fada and my mentor and voice trainer, Mr Thamsanqa Ncokwana I was able to find my way back to music and enrolled at Fort Hare.”

As a student, he made a name for himself in the second year of his studies when, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, won the 2020 Voice of South Africa International Opera (VOSA) Competition.

“Winning the VOSA 2020 was my big break and also an affirmation that I am where I am supposed to be.”

Soon his talent bagged him several wins at international and national opera singing competition stages such as the London International Music Competition; the 2021 Aspiring Opera Competition, the Bermingham International Music Competition, and the Medici International Opera Competition.

In 2022, he was selected to join 20 opera singers from around the world in an international fundraising event for Ukraine war victims. The Artist for Peace production was organized by Opera Cecilia, an international opera company.

Here at UFH, the baritone singer has performed at several key events such as graduation, during a visit by President Cyril Ramaphosa and most recently he performed at the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba 6th Annual Lecture that was delivered by Dr Pali Lehohla.

“This feat has not come easy. There were people who told me that a qualification in music has slim or no career prospects and I challenged that by asking, why would universities, such as Fort Hare offer a qualification that has no career prospects. I switched off the noise and I chased my dream by remaining focused and disciplined, now here I am today.”

“This new role has taken me beyond my dream. In addition to being a musician, I now also perform the duty of helping other musicians get on stage to showcase their talent and ultimately make a living out of it.”

Sazi credits his achievements to people who played a pivotal role in the different stages of his life, such as Mr Fada, Mr Ncokwana, Mr Ndumiso Mtshali (Head of the Music Department) and Dr Potelwa who saw potential in him and presented him with this opportunity.

One thing he sadly regrets is his mother not being here to witness his achievement. Sazi’s mother succumbed to cancer in August 2021, leaving him as the sole and primary caregiver of his younger siblings.

“When I received my appointment letter, my mom was the first person I thought of. I had a conversation with her in my heart. I know her soul is beaming with pride.”