Film captures Edmonton music instructor's homecoming to Namibia

After nine years away, musician Garth Prince was able to bring his gifts to his motherland again, and a film crew was there to film every minute.

‘The music is just a great opportunity to look beyond language or religion'

Edmonton singer Garth Prince teaches a primary school class in Walvis Bay, Namibia, during a residency filmed in the short documentary Memoirs of the Motherland. (Memoirs of the Motherland/YouTube)

Namibian singer Garth Prinsonsky's decision to move to Edmonton wasn't easy. 

His singing career was thriving in his native country, with music videos being broadcast across the continent, including on MTV Base Africa. 

In Edmonton, the singer, who is known by the name Garth Prince, was virtually unknown.

"It was probably one of the most difficult things I've ever gone through, to move away from the place that I grew up," Prince said, in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Monday. "And in Namibia, music is especially a part of everyday life and culture. It's very much part of who we are as people there.

"I felt like if I could get some of that music in and around my life here in Edmonton, it would at least make me feel less homesick."

New film

Prince is the subject of Memoirs of the Motherland, a mini-film released earlier this month on Telus Optik TV and YouTube.

The film documents his first trip back to Namibia after nine years in Canada. 

He got his start in Canada by playing his traditional music at festivals, where teachers would ask him to come to their classrooms and teach, "whatever it is I was doing," Prince recalled. 

He studied western music theory to prepare himself for Canadian classrooms. His southern-African music residencies at schools across Alberta became a hit. 

"The music is fun and kids enjoy it," said Prince. "They love to sing it and I think that's what is keeping me busy, is how much the children enjoy this. This type of music, it's uplifting, it's upbeat, it's just fun, catchy melodies and that's what I always enjoyed about the music. Little did I know that it would make that same sort of connection with children here."

Tim Rogers, principal of Eastbrook Elementary School in Brooks, Alta., commented on the impact of Prince's music in that community, in the short film. 

Once predominantly white and middle class, the oil patch community of Brooks has changed in the last 15 years, Rogers said. About half of the students at his school, which has a total of about 440 students, speak English as a second language. 

"The music is just a great opportunity to look beyond language or religion," said Rogers. 

"Even our youngest students are impacted by media, by social media, by popular media. For us, it's an opportunity to break down those stereotypes and to break down even some of those preconceptions that the students have among each other. It's just a different way of looking at each other."

Homeland doubts

Prince wasn't sure if his residencies would be a success in his homeland. 

"What if I went back and kids didn't enjoy the music or didn't like it or didn't perform it as well?" He thought before embarking on the journey. "But at the end of the day, from the very first moment I stepped in and kids sang for me, I knew I had made the right decision to come on the trip. "It was very emotional. Hearing it put to rest any of my doubts." 

During the shooting of the film, which took place in 2017, the crew delivered a big bag of instrumental recorders donated from Edmonton to the primary school kids in the Walvis Bay area of Namibia where Prince grew up. This year, when he returned to Namibia with his family, the students there played the Namibian national anthem and three other songs, on their recorders.

"I was so amazed," Prince said. He also had another 50 donated recorders this time. 

Prince's residencies are fully booked for the fall in the Edmonton region. He also plans to travel back to Namibia and nearby South Africa every other year now, to continue his residencies abroad. 


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist who was born in Zimbabwe and has received honours from the Canadian Church Press, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association Canada. She is a web writer and editor of First Person columns at CBC Edmonton. She is also the digital producer of CBC's docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories, debuting on CBC Gem and CBC-TV in October. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca.