My piano is my shield. The 16-year-old with the keys to change a community

 
 
 

Music flows from Curtley Cerfontein’s fingertips. He plays the piano with a quiet confidence that belies his age. When the 16-year-old practises, he’s transported to another world. Cerfontein’s piano is a shield. In his community in Bonteheuwel, children even younger than him are at risk from gang violence and drug abuse. Behind the black and white keys, Cerfontein finds not only a safe space, but the chance turn his hopes into a reality.

“When I am playing and composing I am living my dream,” Cerfontein says. He was introduced to music through his church, where he played drums as a child. At the age of 12, he became one of the first students to join the Jazz Yard Academy. The NPO offers free music lessons to children in Bonteheuwel, providing them with new opportunities and a healthy outlet for their time. Through the initiative, Cerfontein discovered his affinity for playing the piano. He has made huge strides as a jazz pianist, growing in skill and confidence. Cerfontein expresses himself with his harmonies, using improvisation and memory to compose his own songs. “Music comes from the soul,” Cerfontein says. “Whatever your soul feels comes out in the melody.”

The music he creates is inspired by his community and keeps Cerfontein grounded. This year, he performed with the academy at the World Children’s Prize ceremony in Sweden. It was a time of joy and excitement for Cerfontein. “Not a lot of youngsters get the opportunity to even go overseas or fly,” he says. “I have so much to be grateful for.” While Cerfontein experiences the thrill of being a recognised musician, he has no intentions for a life of stardom. “I don’t aspire to be famous,” Cerfontein says. “I just aspire to make a difference in everyone else’s lives.” In the future he wants to give others the same opportunities he has been afforded. People are able to succeed when they are handed the keys to change.