Kolwane Mantu's story is proof that television has created a global village.
The South African violinist, who lives and teaches amid the slums of Soweto township, is bound by love to an American violinist, who died before he could meet him, and to two of the dead man's closest friends, two women, who helped their dying friend realize his final wish.
Mantu, who will speak to students at Baltimore's School of the Arts today, plays with the violin that the extraordinary BSO violinist Bruce Wade, who died of AIDS in May 1993, left him. As the music director of the African Youth Ensemble, Mantu is able to continue to teach music for free to more than 50 South African youngsters living in abject poverty because Wade instructed his friends, Carolyn Foulkes and Rosemary White, to administer his entire estate as the Bruce L. Wade African Youth Ensemble Fund.
This all happened because Wade, Foulkes and White happened to see an ABC News broadcast about the work Mantu did. They watched Mantu teach youngsters in the basement of a rundown Soweto community center. The contrast of the surroundings -- Mantu's orchestra shared their rehearsal space with several broken-down toilets and a sink -- with the beauty created there moved all of them deeply.
"Bruce was often depressed when he was dying, and we were LTC looking for a project that would capture his interest," says White, a flutist who teaches at the School for the Arts.
But strangely, Wade never wanted to talk about Mantu and his youth orchestra, Foulkes says. Finally, Foulkes and White had to talk to Wade about what to do with his estate.
"He went over his enormous record collection -- he knew exactly to whom he wanted to leave every one of his CDs," Foulkes says. "When I asked him what he wanted to do with his money, he said: 'Do you remember that program about that guy who teaches the kids in South Africa? I want to leave it to them.' I said, 'We'll do it.' He squeezed my hand and whispered, 'That's great.' Three days later he died."
White and Foulkes, a trumpet player who also teaches at the School for the Arts, contacted Don Kladstrup, the ABC bureau chief in South Africa who had reported the story. Kladstrup, in turn, informed Mantu that two American women wanted to help him.
"There had been so many promises of help before that I had become skeptical," Mantu says. "I thought, 'This will never happen.' "
But a month after Wade's death, Foulkes and White traveled to Johannesburg to stay with Kladstrup and his wife, Petie, who had themselves become deeply involved with Mantu and the African Youth Ensemble.
"Our two weeks there left us in awe of Kolwane, both as a humanitarian and as a musician," Foulkes says. "It was astounding to witness how he used the joy and love of music to enrich the lives of young people who live in such poverty."
"It moved me greatly that someone who lived halfway around the world, and who I never met, wanted to help," Mantu says. "As a black symphonic musician, Bruce was a great role model, and his legacy will continue to live on through the musical education of these children."
Readers interested in helping the Bruce L. Wade African Youth Ensemble can contact Carolyn Foulkes, 2106 Dobler Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21218 ( 243-6118, phone and fax).