THE BIG READ: Young Thembinkosi lives out his dreams
Eighteen-year-old Thembinkosi Mavimbela had never handled a musical instrument before he came to Johannesburg to apply to study for a BMus at Wits University.
''From a very young age I always saw myself as a musician," he said. ''Listening to music is what pushed me to follow my dreams. I grew up on gospel and R&B, and then started appreciating arranged music like classical orchestration. Music moves me and I wanted to move an audience in the same way."
Mavimbela, whose father is a policeman and mother a teacher, said his parents were not entirely happy with his choice of career at first.
''My dad didn't believe that there was a bright future for me in music," he said. ''My mother was more enthusiastic. Now, all the opportunities that have come my way have changed my dad's mind."
The young bassist, now 25, arrived in Johannesburg in 2006 after completing matric in Mpumalanga.
''I auditioned for the music degree as a vocalist and I was accepted," he said. ''Then I picked up a guitar and changed my music major."
It was when Mavimbela started playing with an orchestra, in Pimville, Soweto, that he discovered the double bass.
''I picked up the instrument, thinking that it would be similar to the guitar.
''I practised from guidebooks and gradually developed a knack for the double bass. I also found that I had a natural aptitude for learning to play an instrument."
Mavimbela said he dedicates hours a day to practising.
''I felt a natural affinity with instruments. When I started I just played as much as I could. It was hard work. I practised more than six hours a day and often worked at it through the night."
In 2007, Mavimbela auditioned for a place in the Miagi (Music is a Great Investment) Youth Orchestra which, its website said, "promotes music education for youth as an effective tool for social upliftment". He was accepted.
''The orchestra is made up of youngsters who have a passion and a talent for music," said the bassist. ''Some of us are studying music, others are doing law or medicine. What we have in common is our love of playing, but the auditioning is very strict.
''Conductors and instructors come from around the world to help develop our skills. We have exceptional music talent in this country," he said.
''Our youngest member is an 11-year-old girl who plays harpsichord and we have a double bass player who started playing at 11 years old too."
Mavimbela travelled for the first time with the orchestra, to Cape Town, in 2008 and went to Germany the next year to play at The Young Euro Festival of youth orchestras from around the world.
Despite financial difficulties, Mavimbela is committed to his dream.
''I've had a few moments when I've reconsidered my path and thought of giving my music up, but it doesn't take long for me to become motivated again. I'm blessed with a passion - I eat, sleep and drink music; it's everything to me."
Thanks to scholarships from Wits, the Newtown Young Aspiring Musicians and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra there has been a small flow of money to help the young musician.
He's enjoyed the places to which music has taken him.
''Last year, I went to the US for a month and we travelled from Miami up the East Coast to New York with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. We played 18 concerts in 24 days.
"It was truly amazing, and exhausting."
On Monday, Mavimbela will be one of the musicians accompanying the Miagi Youth Orchestra on a tour of Europe. More than 90 young South Africans will travel to Germany and Austria to perform during a 16-day tour of some of the most prestigious European summer festivals.
Performing with the Austrian conductor, composer, painter and jazz trombonist Christian Muthspiel, the Miagi Youth Orchestra will headline the already sold-out Young Euro Classic Festival in Berlin on July 27.
''Despite their misgivings, I'm so lucky that my parents gave me the freedom to decide what I want to do with my life," said Mavimbela.
''I had to be patient, but it paid off and I now play with some of South Africa's most inspirational musicians, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Markus Wyatt and Simphiwe Dana."
The young musician plans to bring out an album soon, a mixture of classical music and jazz grounded in African roots.
He also plans to learn to play the electric bass, but said his passion remains the guitar and double bass.
For this gifted artist, the road ahead promises great things.
''I love being alone and practising for hours," he said. ''It's the most joyful, intimate and soulful time for me.
"Music shapes me and keeps me going. It is, for me, the greatest journey and I don't want to miss one moment of it."
- The Miagi Youth Orchestra will perform a farewell concert at the Linder auditorium, Parktown, on July 15. Tickets from Computicket