Episode 145 – The Melisizwe Brothers

On this episode, we meet The Melisizwe Brothers.

Marc, Seth and Zacary James began training in music as early as ages 4 to 7. Encouraged by their families, and with each other’s support, they have since established themselves on the music scene.

The Melisizwe Brothers have performed internationally and have appeared on several television shows including Netflix’s Mowtown Magic, Showtime at the Apollo, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and  more! And they are finding ways to give back to the community through their Gold Mind Programs.

ECF is excited to help support their upcoming performance at the Winspear Centre on June 23rd. At this concert, the brothers will be sharing their musical influences. Think Soul, R&B, Classical and Pop.

Thanks to  Aubrianna Snow for bringing us this story.

Get your tickets to see The Melisizwe Brothers at the Winspear Centre on June 23rd.
Hear more music and see what’s next for the Brothers on their website.
Check out their Gold Minds Programs.

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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation.

Image for this episode was supplied.

Thank you to the Melisizwe Brothers for allowing us to include their single “Don’t Let Go” in this episode.

Transcripts by Karli Drew.


[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]

Shereen Zink [00:00:25] Hi everyone. Welcome to ECF’s Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Shereen Zink—

Graeme Lummer [00:00:30] And I’m Graeme...


Shereen [00:00:31] Edmonton is full of generous donors who’ve created endowment funds at Edmonton Community Foundation.

Graeme [00:00:36] These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Shereen [00:00:41] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.

On this episode, we meet the Melisizwe Brothers.

Graeme [00:00:51] Marc, Seth, and Zacary James have been creating music since they were kids. Encouraged by their families and with each other’s support, they have since established themselves on the music scene.

Shereen [00:00:59] Yeah, they really have. They’re a Canadian band with roots in the Edmonton area, and they’ve already performed internationally in places like Brazil, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Graeme [00:01:09] They have appeared on several television shows, including Netflix’s Motown Magic, Showtime at the Apollo, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and tons more.

Shereen [00:01:16] ECF is super excited to help support their upcoming performance at the Winspear Centre on June 23rd. At this concert, the Brothers will be sharing their musical influences. Think soul, R&B, classical, and pop. Make sure you check it out if you’re free.

Graeme [00:01:29] Our correspondent, Aubrianna Snow, sat down with Marc and Zacary James to hear more about how the Melisizwe Brothers began, and how they’re finding ways to give back to their community.

Shereen [00:01:37] Just a heads up listeners, there was some construction taking place during the conversation, so you’ll hear some of that in the background.

[Music clip of Don’t Let Go by The Melisizwe Brothers plays]

Aubrianna Show [00:01:53] Edmonton and the surrounding area have a rich local music scene, a scene that has a bright future thanks to engaged young people like Marc, Seth and Zacary James. Together, they’re The Melisizwe Brothers and they’ve taken the world by storm since their cover of I’ll Be There by The Jackson 5 went viral in 2016. Since then, they’ve appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Steve Harvey Show, America’s Got Talent, and The Today Show. In 2020, they won Nickelodeon’s America’s Most Musical Family competition, and since then, they’ve been focused on bringing their music to folks across the globe and on giving back to their communities.

I had the chance to sit down with Marc and Zacary ahead of their show at The Winspear on June 23rd. Here’s our conversation.

So tell me a little bit about how you folks got started in music.

Zacary James [00:02:34] We got started in music about 2012/2013. My mom brought home a keyboard from her coworker. From then on, you know, it was… it was a gift. Seth and I, we just fell in love with music. We got into piano classes that same year, and Marc was already started before us and he was doing, you know, guitar classes and also vocal lessons. You know, we had a lot of inspirations from many different people that we’ve met along the way that inspired us to, you know, keep doing music and actually form our group. And it was from that gift that we decided to pick up music. That’s kind of how we started— almost like by accident. But also, you know, none of this was planned, uh, so I started playing when I was four-years-old. I started playing piano when I was four.

Marc James [00:03:23] Well, I started playing the guitar when I was seven-years-old and I started classical training at seven and sort of got started.

Aubrianna [00:03:32] I know you’ve been on quite a journey. What are you most excited about right now?

Marc [00:03:36] Most of what’s changed for us, really, is the way we do things now. Over the years, we’ve learned to really just, you know, focus on our strengths and our directive has changed because we really believe that education is important. So I actually recently started my course in Berkeley College of Music, a music business course. So education for us is really important. We believe that the only way to really go to the next step in our career is to make sure that we have our education. I just started my course at Berkeley College and Seth and Zacary will be following after me as well.

But apart from that, we’re still recording music. We came out with this— a new single in April, April 30th, and now we’re… we’re still touring. We came back from Brazil was our last performance performing [Zac: Belize.] Sorry, Belize. [laughing] Yeah, thanks Zac. Belize was our last big performance performing for 10,000 kids. Now we’re here, we’re back in Edmonton, performing at the Winspear on June 23rd, and it’s our second biggest venue here. So yeah, we’re really excited about that.

Aubrianna [00:04:44] I’m sure you’ve both learned a lot since being involved in music. What have been some of the key takeaways?

Zac [00:04:50] Well, one of the things that we’ve learned as a group is that you’re always moving forward. You always have to be moving forward. There may be some days where it’s really hard, there may be some days where it feels like you’re not going anywhere, but once you’re always in the state of improvement, you’re actually always moving forward. And I guess that’s one thing that we always like to share, you know, among our peers. That’s just one very important information is that to always stay the course. I think that’s like the main key sentence that I can put it in. So yeah.

Marc [00:05:27] I think one thing that we’ve had to learn is to really just trust in each other’s abilities. That’s because when you’re… when you’re in the music industry, if we were by ourselves, it would be a lot harder to do the things that we wanna do. And so, people have asked me, “Marc, how do you feel that your younger brother is the one who stands at the center of the stage? And he is in the limelight and he is the star of the show.” And I had to come to terms and… and accept that yes, Zacary is— he’s our lead. He’s our lead singer, we are his brothers, and we are— we’re the people who have to stand at his back and be supportive. And that— that’s the same that goes for Zac. He knows that… that we support each other. And that’s just how we’ve been— That’s how we’ve been able to do the things that we do. It’s because we stand together and we stand for each other as well.

Aubrianna [00:06:18] So you’ve talked a little bit about the process of getting involved in music, but what was the inspiration? Who inspired you folks?

Zac [00:06:25] I would say what inspired me was from people telling us that we were good. It was getting the encouragement from family members. You know, it started off really simple, that kind of stuff. Getting the encouragement from our parents to, you know, just play and to showcase what we had because music was something that— for me, I love music. It’s like number one for me. And then, of course, school is very important in order for me to pursue music, but music was what I really loved. [Marc: Stevie is also a big inspiration.] Yeah, Stevie Wonder is also a big inspiration for me as well. And we actually got to meet Stevie Wonder in 2017. That was pretty much how we started. It was from the encouragement from people who are in our circle. And then that’s when we started to, you know, expand, I would say, from when we went viral. And that was also an inspiration for us. ‘Cause that is when we realized that, you know, we can do it as a group. It is possible. So… that’s how we got out there.

Marc [00:07:28] For me, my inspiration… it actually started from The Jackson 5. That’s because my mom, um— When we were a lot younger, my mom used to play The Jacksons, Stevie Wonder. But for me, I-I particularly fell in love with The Jackson 5 because I loved to sing and dance and— at our family karaokes. Eventually that… that pushed us towards actually forming a group. Initially I’d been the lead singer, Seth was our pianist, and Zac was our drummer. And then eventually that love for music just kind of turned into what we have here today. Now I’d say, like, my inspirations have changed. Being classically trained, um, I’m really into Andrea Bocelli and, as a guitarist, I really love Chris Stapleton. He’s really awesome. I us— I usually do cover his songs at times, but that’s kind of what I’ve grown into myself.

Aubrianna [00:08:21] So Zac, you weren’t always the lead singer. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that transition looked like for you and your brothers?

Zac [00:08:28] That was about almost 9 years ago— 8/9 years ago. And back then, nobody really knew that I could sing because I only started singing when I was seven-years-old. And it was one Christmas where there was like a singing competition. Seth was on stage initially, you know. He thought he was gonna do weights ‘cause he’s like the guy who does the… you know, the weightlifting and all that kind of stuff. So my parents took me and then we went upstage and then I… I got to sing in front of, like, a lot of people then. And I think that was the moment when everyone in my family knew that I could sing. That’s kind of how I became the lead singer. It was just— Really grateful for the people who’ve been able to, you know, give me a chance at showcasing what I do best. It almost happened by chance, but I’m really, really grateful that happened.

Aubrianna [00:09:19] What do you all have coming up for the rest of 2023?

Zac [00:09:22] For the rest of 2023, we usually host my month-long program in the Caribbean… in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and it’s called the Gold Mind Summer Intensive 2023. Marc, you can expand a little bit more on that.

Marc [00:09:35] Right, right, right. So, um, yeah, like Zac mentioned in August 2023, uh, we’ll be hosting the Gold Mind Summer Intensive in, uh, the Caribbean in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. And this is actually the third year? [Zac: Yeah.] This is actually the third year of hosting the program. What we do is a music program. A combination of things where we do sound production, video editing, performance, and we actually work alongside youths to really help them to learn about these creative skills, um, in the industry. The reason we do that is because we— through our music, we-we love giving back and if you have a gift, you should use it to not only inspire others, but to give back to your community.

And this started, actually, a couple years ago. We were inspired by a gift from Ellen and Stevie Wonder. They gifted us musical instruments and we use those instruments. We still use those instruments to produce and make music. We were inspired back in 2018 to create our Gold Mind Program. Our Gold Mind program where we ourselves collect instruments, donate these instruments, visit schools and communities, and speak to these communities just to inspire them to use their minds. So… that’s the next big thing happening in August for us. [Zac: Yeah.] After that— I mean Zac—

Zac [00:11:01] So that’s in August. In July, we’re gonna be heading to Toronto for, of course, a special performance. You know, the rest of the year we’re excited for, you know, what’s to come. I guess first is June 23rd at the Winspear is like what I’m really, really most excited about. And that’s coming up in a few weeks!

Aubrianna [00:11:19] Wow, you’ve got some really exciting things coming up. I’m really inspired by the work that you’re doing in the Caribbean. Are you able to tell me a little bit more about what meeting Ellen and Stevie Wonder was like?

Zac [00:11:28] Meeting Ellen and meeting Stevie Wonder, I guess is what started the idea of us giving back to the community. You know, we didn’t want to forget where we came from, or forget we have a community here in Edmonton and Leduc and the surrounding areas. Being able to meet Ellen was very inspiring and what the Gold Mind Program does is that we are able to, you know, share our experiences with individuals, are able to do performances, symposiums, and also give instruments to individuals who want to have a start in their musical journey. And that is in hopes that they, too, will pursue what they love. Whether it is in music, whether it is in sports, academics. That is what the, you know— the purpose of the Gold Mind is… is just to give that same inspiration that we had when we started, um, for them to follow their own path.
Yeah, that’s pretty much what the Gold Mind is.

Marc [00:12:29] For me, meeting Ellen was— well, it was, really, an amazing experience because it was our first time making an appearance on national television. And the thing is, Ellen, I’m pretty sure she said, (as Ellen) “Hey guys!” and the thing is, it was really awesome because she gave us a hug. She hugged all three of us and we got to sit down next to her and talk to her for a bit. And it was really awesome. Seth even did a rap for her. It was really cool. It was the Gold Mind rap that Seth performed for her right onstage before we actually did our performance. But it’s probably a moment that I’ll never forget.

Just following that journey, we met Stevie after that and Stevie even gifted us some instruments as well. And it just showed us, like… that these people believe in us, in what we can do through our music, and we’re just gonna keep going and doing our best.

I mean, like, when we met Stevie Wonder, Zac was actually… Zac was actually moved to tears when he— when we met Stevie Wonder. And even though I-I felt, like, really emotional, I was just more excited or surprised, like— I was like, “What’s going on here?” um, when he walked into the room. And I mean, like— Zac, do you wanna share anything about that?

Zac [00:13:36] Yeah, Stevie Wonder’s somebody I really, really look up to. So meeting him was very inspiring. We got to spend an hour with him and he was able to, like, show us the songs he wrote for Michael Jackson and… and everything. It was really, really cool. Yeah, I could say that’s like an experience that I would share with, you know, everybody for the rest of my life. It was very, very inspiring.

Aubrianna [00:14:00] Obviously you both have so much to be proud of, looking back on your career so far. But what gives you the most pride looking back on the journey?

Zac [00:14:08] I would say for me, what makes me the most proud is the fact that we are able to set aside our differences and work together as a team for a very long, long time. I would say that is, like, one of the challenges that we have as a group is the fact that, you know, we do argue. We are brothers. But at the end of the day, we have to come together and we have to work together. And I think that’s the most impressive thing because that’s produced what I feel is what I’m most proud of. That we are able to grow together, we’re able to stick together.

Marc [00:14:44] Well, looking back on our journey, I think for me what makes me most proud is, really, all the things that we’ve been able to do together and accomplish. And like I mentioned before, I think if we were by ourselves… a lot of these things we wouldn’t have been able to do. So that’s why I’m so grateful that I have my brothers around because together we are the Melisizwe Brothers and that means that, again, Melisizwe is leaders of the future. And so… I know that in the future we’ll continue to do great things.

Aubrianna [00:15:18] I think I speak for everyone when I say I can’t wait to see what you folks accomplish in the future. What’s your biggest hope for your career?

Marc [00:15:25] My hope is, really, to involve myself more in the music scene in Leduc, Edmonton, Alberta and— because with these skills, we have a lot of experience. Our journey just… has allowed us to have a lot of experience. Now that I’m going to Berkeley College, I’m-I’m really just, kind of, completing my education in… in the musical area. So after I finish, I do plan to, really, just get in the community and help other artists and creatives to, really, market themselves better and also… help to put Leduc and Edmonton on the map in terms of the music scene as well. I know we have a lot of friends here in the city who have been really involved in… in doing that, and I just want to be a part of that as well.

Aubrianna [00:16:14] What would you tell someone who’s maybe just getting to know your music?

Zac [00:16:18] Well, first of all, I would— The first thing I would do is introduce myself. My name, [laughs] my age, everything. You know, I would just tell them about what we do, tell them about our group. And, you know, that’s something I usually do when I’m introducing myself. And then I would tell them about the concert on June 23rd, of course. The normal stuff that we usually always do. And one thing is that, the reason why we do that, we introduce ourselves every time we meet someone, is because there’s never a limit to how much you can achieve or how much you can know. So, that’s why we always try to expand ourselves and always think that, you know, there’s people that are not going to know you, so you have to introduce yourself to everybody that you know. So yeah, it’s something that we always practice.

Aubrianna [00:17:08] And where can folks stream your music?

Marc [00:17:11] You can stream our music on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, everywhere. And yeah, thank you so much!

Aubrianna [00:17:18] For a taste of what you can expect at the Winspear on June 23rd, here’s the Melisizwe Brothers single, Don’t Let Go.

[Song: Don’t Let Go by The Melisizwe Brothers plays from 00:17:25 to 00:20:39]

Shereen [00:20:40] Thank you so much to Aubrianna Snow for bringing us this story, and to Marc and Zacary James for sharing their time with us. We’d also like to thank the Melisizwe Brothers for allowing us to include their single, Don’t Let Go, in this episode.

Graeme [00:20:51] The Melisizwe Brothers will be performing with their band on Friday, June 23rd at 7:30 PM at the Winspear Centre. You can get your tickets from the Winspear Centre website and we’ll have the link in our show notes.

Shereen [00:21:02] Yeah, we’ll also have links to more information about the Melisizwe Brothers, their Gold Mind Initiative and where you can find their music.

Graeme [00:21:09] ECF also has many grants and student awards. Be sure to check out our upcoming granting deadlines. There could be funding opportunities for people like you.

Shereen [00:21:15] Yeah, and don’t forget to read our blog for even more great community stories.

[The Well Endowed Podcast music plays in background of outro]

Graeme [00:21:19] That brings us to the end of the show. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Shereen [00:21:22] Yeah, thank you. If you enjoyed it, please share it with all the music lovers in your world.

Graeme [00:21:26] And if you have time, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to support our show.

Shereen [00:21:31] And come say hi to us on Facebook. You can share your thoughts and see some pictures. Thanks again for tuning in.

We’ve been your hosts, Shereen Zink—

Graeme [00:21:39] And Graeme Lummer.

Shereen and Graeme [00:21:40] Until next time!

Andrew Paul [00:21:45] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa Pruden [00:21:48] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:21:51] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:21:53] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com.

Andrew [00:21:57] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:21:58] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:22:02] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:22:04] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

[theme music continues playing for a few seconds after dialogue ends]

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