Mteto Maphoyi’s father left behind one Pavarotti CD when he abandoned Mteto, his brothers, and his mother in a small Xhosa township in South Africa’s Western Cape. Mteto was four years old and before his father died eleven years later Mteto would see him only once more. As a child, Mteto played his Pavarotti CD one phrase at a time, sounding out the Italian lyrics to teach himself to sing “Santa Lucia” and “‘O Sole Mio.”
Soon Mteto and his friends formed the Six Tenors, a group of six teenagers who sang opera on the streets to support their families in a shantytown with over 40% unemployment. Living a catch-as-catch-can life, Mteto fell into a pattern of crime after his mother’s death from HIV/AIDS, enduring multiple stabbings and a burning in gang wars and chance fights. Now a twenty-two year old with a knife scar stretching the length of his cheek, Mteto has used opera to pull himself out of the cycle of gang life.