Catalysing global magic via Imogen Heap and Nkosi sikelele America at Poptech


Imagine my surprise when @garyphayes sent me a twitter message about spotting me at 3:13 in a vblog on Youtube by the sensationally amazingly creative expansive musician, Imogen Heap, who performed at Pop!Tech in Camden Maine last month. Turns out Imogen was a student of Gary’s in a previous life of his in the UK.     

The context for this is as follows: I was attending PopTech in Maine in October 2008- only a week after drastic measures were announced to dramatically stem the GFC. The mood was sombre and uncertainty about the future was palpable in America. We had just finished listening to some of the heartbreaking stories of AIDS told by Community educator Zinhle Thabethe,  herself HIV Positive, and the work of Project Masiluleke which is about using mobile phone technology to help reverse South Africa’s crippling HIV/AIDSand TB crises by connecting millions to testing and care. This session was immediately followed by a very sombre outlook on the potential consequences of the economic meltdown by futurist Juan Enriquez. The energy in the room had changed into shock, horror and a sense of helplessness.

Sitting there in stunned reflective silence, the very wise Andrew Zolli, curator of Poptech, then asked Imogen Heap, who had performed this the previous day, if she’d like to return to the stage and do an improv musical piece, which was of course very much needed because as curator, it would have been bad karma to send 500 people away with a feeling of depression and despair!

Imogen came on stage and asked the audience for a tune to kick off the improvisation …..and, silence. No-one offered anything. Felt like 5 minutes went by (I’m sure it wasn’t that long) and my heart just went out to her. I thought…why not give her the song that carried many South Africans through the despair of the apartheid years, Nkosi Sikelele Africa ( meaning “God bless Africa”), and substitute America for Africa?  That was appropriate at that moment, and American folks through Poptech were the very people helping and funding the AIDS cause through Project Masiluleke- and the world will be a whole heap worse off if America collapses! 

So…I put my hand up and Imogen was visibly relieved and then of course I had to stand up and sing it for her so she could pick up the tune! In the Camden Opera House! In front of 500 people! And, I am no Susan Boyle!

But you have to be bold and courageous! So, from that point on, magic was catalysed and the energy in the room shifted in an instant when Imogen began creating the most amazing improvisation. Soon, the whole audience was singing “Nkosi sikele America!”  

Watch the video here where Imogen talks about this story, and how that unique event has inspired her to create an ongoing innovation movement. 



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