State College

Trip to South Africa for music festival a ‘once in a lifetime’ treat for local teen

Christmas came early for a State College Area High School student who was one of six Americans to participate in a music festival in South Africa earlier this month.

“It’s was completely surreal and one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” said Anna Pearl Belinda, 16.

Over the summer, Belinda received an email about the Route 40 Music Festival in South Africa.

Only six young songwriters from the United States were selected among hundreds who submitted their work to participate in the three-day event. The group included three girls and three boys ages 12 to 18 from across the country.

And singer-songwriter Dave Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band, was one of the judges. Matthews was born in Johannesburg.

“We’re big Dave fans, so I applied on the day the application was due,” Belinda said.

Three months passed with no further news about the contest, and Belinda said she forgot about it until she received an email that highlighted her acceptance in the fall.

“I was at school, and my mom texted me to check my email … It said ‘You won,’ and I was completely dumbfounded,” Belinda said.

Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, Rock School Scholarship Fund and the Casterbridge Music Development Academy sponsored the festival.

Over three days, on three stages and with 36 musicians and bands, thousands of fans experienced the first ever Route 40 Music Festival held in White River, located in Mpumalanga province.

Belinda performed an original song on the piano called “ Lovesick Puppies,” about people who think they’re in love. She said she also had the chance to work with Yasmin de Soiza, Wendy Winks and Carl Restivo, and Paul Bruce-Brand and Sharne Mostert.

And in a twist of events, Belinda said she was in South Africa when national hero Nelson Mandela, the nation’s first democratically elected president, died Dec.5.

“It was the first day of the music fest, and we had a meeting where people just told us to be respectful,” Belinda said. “Some singers dedicated songs to him, and there was a moment of silence, but the area was so impacted by that event.”

The high school junior said she grew up with music by singing and playing the piano, but she never received formal lessons.

“It’s always been a love of mine and something I hope to continue,” she said.

She recently was a contestant in Happy Valley’s Got Talent and has her own YouTube page. She also performs at venues around Centre County.