Does education, musical talent mix?

Seh Calaz

Seh Calaz

Fred Zindi Music
In a September 2014 interview by Zim Entertainment, Tawanda Mumanyi, aka Seh Calaz from Mbare, of the “Mboko Imboko” fame was heard saying: “Although my music only took off in 2012 with the song ‘Mbare’ or ‘Dollar Getter’, I am now rolling in the ghetto driving a Mercedes Benz. How many ghetto youths can do that at the age of 24? I did my primary school in Mbare and my secondary school at Trust Academy but did not go very far with school, yet here I am, a successful musician.”

Seh Calaz is seen as a role model by many of his peers and quite a few of them have tried to follow his footsteps disregarding the need to go to school. They often ask: “Is it necessary to even study music when one can just teach himself to play an instrument or to sing in the ghetto?”

The other day, my teenage nephew asked me: “Uncle, do you think one should bother with school if he is extremely talented and can make lots of money?”

I asked him what he had in mind to ask that question. He said, “Look at Michael Jackson. He never went to school for long, but he made lots of money using his talent”.

I found it difficult to argue against his thoughts, so I simply told him that if Michael Jackson had been to school for long, he would have planned his life differently.

Let us take one aspect of the creative arts: music. Do talented musicians need to bother with education?

There are several talented musicians who did very well without the interference of school. Bob Marley, a reggae icon and legend who emerged from the ghettos in Jamaica sang “Could you be loved?” where some of the lyrics went something like this: “Don’t let them fool you. Oh no! They’ll even try to school you, Oh no!”

Pink Floyd, an English band that achieved worldwide success with their progressive and psychedelic rock music used some philosophical lyrics in their hit song “Another Brick In The Wall” which topped the USA and UK charts in 1979. Some of the lyrics went like this: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teacher leave them kids alone. Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone. All in all you are just another brick in the wall”.

I have asked many young people who were born and bred in Harare to tell me where Zimbabwe College of Music is situated. They have no idea, yet that college has been in existence since 1948.

Would you, as a parent, prefer your child to go and study music as an academic subject instead of law or science?

Most African parents prefer their children to study subjects such as Law, Medicine, Commerce, Engineering, Mathematics and Science. Creative arts subjects such as dance and music are viewed as less important. The reason for this is simple. For years, successful Africans are those known to have pursued careers in medicine, engineering or law whereas most musicians and dancers often struggle to make ends meet. Many African parents argue that creative arts such as music or dance are subjects which should not even be included in the school curriculum. They should remain what they are, for recreational purposes. Those who concentrate on creative arts are not viewed as educated at all. It is those who pursue academic subjects who are often viewed as “educated”. Besides, there is a strong belief among African parents that children who pursue creative arts such as dance, music or drama inadvertently end up being involved in loose morals or drug abuse.

But, can we really separate the creative arts from education?

In a way, Pink Floyd were justified in claiming that education was of no use for those like them who have talent for they became extremely successful.

But why do already successful people ask universities for honorary degrees? The short answer to that is that they must feel that something is missing in their lives. Education, to them, will give them extra respect. An honorary degree is often conferred as honour without the usual requirements of classroom performance. It does not even give one the knowledge required at that level, yet many people who have not received systematic instruction from school in order to develop their intellectual abilities or earned a degree through the normal channels crave for it.

Talent, on the other hand, is a special aptitude or gift one possesses with or without training such as the ability to play music to dance or to sing . There are people who believe that an individual is geared for success based on their level of education or talent.

However, there are several examples in our society which illustrate that a rounded individual is what attracts success. What is important, is that we examine whether we can separate education from talent in the creative arts.

This may prove futile, as one has to possess a certain amount of talent in order to garner a level of quality education.

A discussion of this nature also calls into question the definition of success. When we talk of success, are we speaking of financial excess and a high level of entrepreneurship or can it be clearly left to a personal goal? Hence, in a conversation we are brought to the topic of goals, and the relevant ends and means we aspire for and utilise.

There is ample literature on goals; both setting them and attaining them in any aspect of our lives. However, as we gain more experience, we acknowledge that education — though not just a quantitative concept — does not guarantee one’s success but rather it is seen as a catalyst to increase the probability of success. With an educated brain, one can work out ways of becoming successful in the way we understand success today.

Talent, regardless of the field, always seems to bring faster gratification to the person. We have talented artistes we admire in our society. The likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and so forth who have in the eyes of many, achieved their goal through sheer talent without academic education. Is that not success? However, like academics talent also requires hard work, sacrifice and determination.

Sadly, in many spheres the perception is shared that one cannot possess both talent and education. However, both can function together very well and it is difficult to separate them.

The flaws of such thinking begs one to wonder whether or not African societies find persons both educated and talented anomalies rather than promote and inspire individuals to achieve a realisation of both. Hence, at this point we clearly decide that it is not that one is a better option but that having both opens windows of opportunities and perhaps a more fulfilling life.

It is established, that while not every person performs their talent on a public scene, everyone has a talent and this enables them to explore a balanced life.

For many African children in school, they are faced with the decision of going the academic route or pursuing a “talent” based career. Hence, we take the time to understand the elements, which attract us most in either realm. The best advice for anyone is to prepare yourself for almost anything your life may offer.

It calls for understanding that while running your own race in life, one must acknowledge that it may not always go as planned. Hence, do not create obstacles, which hamper realising your goal(s) because of an irresponsible decision.

On the contrary, carefully evaluate both education and talent and ensure that you set for yourself milestones that will help and guide you to maximise your potential in both. This stands the test of time, as you may never know which of the two may be your life’s support.

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