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Bermuda nurturing South African teens’ music

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Iona van Niekerk, left, and sister Moya with Joy T. Barnum. The teenagers will be singing with her this month at Verdmont in Smith’s (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

When Moya and Iona van Niekerk were little, they would rush through their homework so they could watch television.

Their parents quickly banned television during the week, fearing they were forming a bad habit.

Today, Moya, 16, and Iona, 14, think that is one of the reasons they became passionate readers, song writers and singers.

“It gave us the opportunity to do something else,” Moya said.

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, the girls moved to Bermuda with their parents eight years ago. Moya attends Warwick Academy and Iona is a Bermuda High School student.

They find writing songs to be therapeutic.

Afrikaans is their first language, but they write mostly in English.

“Writing songs in Afrikaans is a whole different task,” Moya said. “You cannot directly translate everything in English to Afrikaans.”

However, they are challenging themselves to write more in their native language. They release their first song in Afrikaans, Hou My Vas (Hold Me Tight), on Friday.

“The song is a bit romantic,” Moya said. “It is about not wanting to let go of something that is important to you.”

A music video for their song Sixteen Candles, posted a month ago, has had more than 11,000 views, while their song Better Late than Never has gathered 5,700 views in two weeks.

Their songs are inspired by television, movies, books, quotes and sometimes Pinterest.

“For one of the songs I wrote, I used a random word generator,” Iona said. “I asked it to give me a verb, a noun, and an adjective. The song just came along from that.”

Their dream is to perform in Krone (Crown), one of the biggest annual music concerts in South Africa.

“We go to it as much as we can,” Moya said.

Several of their songs have appeared on South African radio station Saffa’s top ten list, and they won the best newcomer award last year.

Last year, they really wanted to enter a singing and songwriting competition run by Bermudian vocal artist Heather Nova.

It was only open to Bermudians, so they sent her their music and asked for her advice.

Nova met them and called their music “phenomenal”.

“There is a lot of accessibility here, and quite a lot of opportunities for younger people, regardless of where you come from,” Moya said. “The schools also have lots of opportunities.”

Last month, Iona’s music teacher, Lisa Maule, suggested they sing at a Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society open mike night to get some more experience performing in front of people.

It was their first time doing an event like that, and they were nervous before going on.

They were even more intimidated when they found themselves following Joy T. Barnum, a trained opera singer.

They were surprised when Ms Barnum came up to them afterward with kind words.

“She just said, wow, and that she really liked our songs and stuff,” Moya said.

She was already following them on Instagram. “Our mother started talking with her over e-mail,” Iona said.

Now they are scheduled to perform in Ms Barnum’s A Winter Picnic Concert at Verdmont Museum in Smith’s on February 24 at 6.30pm, alongside teen violinist Zavia Doyling, and others.

“We have seven songs and 20 minutes to fill,” Moya said. “We are very excited and we have been practising.”

The girls started singing when they were little. At first, Disney songs like Let It Go were their favourites. Then they started writing their own music, mostly Christian songs.

“Then we stopped doing it for a while,” Iona said.

Just before the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, they signed up to take lessons with an online singing coach.

“We wanted to do something during Covid-19 that was productive,” Moya said.

That got them back into the groove of singing and writing music. They now have a music coach in South Africa, who is also producing their music for them. They record when they come home to visit.

Singing together has made them closer as siblings. They have the usual sister squabbles, but rarely about music.

“If we did not have this relationship already built, I don’t think this would work,” Iona said.

They find it comforting to have each other when they go on stage.

“You’re so nervous, and there is your sister standing right next to you feeling nervous also,” Moya said. “We just pretend that we are at home singing in our room.”

They feel it is important to take whatever opportunities come their way, but they do not stand idly by waiting.

“Doing this is a lot of work,” Moya said. “You have to view it as a business. We have to post on social media every day and make little videos of our songs.

“We have to make sure that people know about us. It is quite a difficult market to get into, but we have been doing pretty well.”

As much as they love singing, they have other ideas for careers.

“We want to keep our music alive and going, but we would love to go to university,” Iona said. “I want to be a paediatrician.”

Moya wants to be a lawyer.

Their songs are available on all music streaming platforms and their website moyaiona.com. Tickets for A Winter Picnic are available on www.ptix.bm.

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Published February 07, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 08, 2024 at 8:17 am)

Bermuda nurturing South African teens’ music

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