Coming to America

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by Andrew Call / photo by Chris Iatesta

Meet Shane Smit, singer and songwriter for Overtone, the South African a cappella group recently profiled on E Network’s Eastwood & Co. The profile was, in many ways, an ode to just how far Shane has come, but an investigation into that journey is nothing short of inspiring, a lesson in perseverance and humility.

At just four years old, Shane experienced what, to this day, he considers the single most terrifying experience of his life—a powerfully defining car accident in which his grandfather lost his life and he and his father barely escaped with theirs. Shane may have only been four years old at the time, but the experience still falls off his tongue in choppy excerpts as he mentally pauses over the trauma—a heartfelt reminisce that only began to carve his perspective of what it means to succeed.

Shane met Dina Eastwood—who would ultimately fly him and the band to America—after a 2009 concert they held in his cherished hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa. After the show, Shane spoke with his soon-to- be manager and agreed to perform for the entire cast and crew of Invictus, a breakthrough performance that would later prove worthy of an offer from Clint himself to contribute to the film’s soundtrack.

 

Shane’s participation with the Invictus soundtrack lasted three weeks, and when it was finished, Shane took the time to explore California outside of Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, where he remembers he felt rather trapped and isolated. His trip around the West Coast, though, was eye opening. Shane is, after all, a product of a racially torn country the size of Texas, and to drive freely through a country that values equal rights and freedom was “like a big dream.”

Observation suggests that the trip invigorated Shane; he speaks with a refreshing excitement about our freedoms and the opportunities we have to pave our own way and “decide on what you want to do.” He’s also amazed at “just how big” America is, the substantial food portions, and the fact that “everyone sounds like Dina.”

Nonetheless, after having briefly explored parts of the country that had only existed in his mind through movies, Shane flew back home to get everything sorted for his eventual permanent relocation to the U.S. The trip provided Shane with the opportunity to see his home country through the eyes of someone with a glimpse of freedom. “South Africa is like America in the ’60s,” he shares. He talks of all the barred windows and gated up homes—an observation he hadn’t really made until revisiting the place in which he spent his childhood.

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Now, Shane’s goal is to inspire other South Africans that they, too, can make something of themselves and follow their dreams despite the racial tension and sense of violence they were brought up in. At one point, Shane had intentions of starting a business in South Africa, but his affection for America converted his intention to relocating his family here.

It took a while to adapt to our culture, he admits, but after touring the West Coast and finding his niche, he’s chosen to stay for a long time, right here in Carmel. One thing he says keeps him particularly levelheaded here is a sense of home through weekly “braai” or barbecues he has with other local native South African families. “I feel a lot safer (in America). Much more free. I feel like I can park my car safely. That’s one of the reasons I love America so much.”

Shane is quick to point out that his home in South Africa is far from an unsafe tourist destination. He mentioned with a sense of urgency that the tourist industry is thriving and entirely safe, and he explained in jest that there aren’t wild lions roaming around nor do residents live in huts. He speaks with a deep love for his home in South Africa, and with profound enthusiasm about bringing his cherished culture to the American musical mainstream.

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