The South African choral conductor, Christian Ashley-Botha, was born in 1941 in Mossel Bay. His parents nicknamed him 'Bunny', a name he is still called today. Members of the Drakensberg Boys Choir School (DBCS), whose lives he has influenced musically and otherwise, refer to him as 'the maestro'. At an early age, Ashley-Botha was formally introduced to music when he attended the Diocesan College, otherwise known as Bishops, in Rondebosch. There he found an inspiring teacher in music, Master Claude Brown. After Ashley-Botha completed his main schooling, he headed for London to study at the Royal School of Church Music. He soon became an Associate of the Royal College of Music. He returned to South Africa with the expectation of using his newly acquired qualifications and skills.
The qualifications Christian Ashley-Botha had obtained in London were, to his despair, not recognised by the Department of Education in South Africa. He nonetheless took up teaching at St. Andrews in Bloemfontein where he also took over the choir. In 1980, Ashley-Botha applied for the position of headmaster at the DBCS but was instead appointed as Director of Music. For the next 25 years he would be at the helm of one of the most successful and widely travelled musical ensembles in the world.
Christian Ashley-Botha led the choir on many international tours, putting South Africa on the map in choral music. The first tour was the Zimriya Festival in Israel, where the DBCS boys were given all the solos. Their next tour was to Rome, where they performed for Pope John Paul II by special request of the Vatican. From there, they took part in the Triennial Boys Choir Festival in Poznan, Poland, competed in a competition in Spain and walked away with all the prizes; and co-toured with the American Boys Choir. Many other successful international tours followed over the years. During their long spell of success in choral music they have also performed with the Wiener Sängerknaben in Europe. They have toured Canada, Kenya, Australia, Japan and many other countries under the masterful tutelage of Ashley-Botha.
Christian Ashley-Botha and the DBCS had just as many highlights, if not more, at home. In 1984, the choir descended on the then notorious prison, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, along with many others, was a political prisoner. Ashley-Botha and the choir had decided to honour one of the most revered freedom fighters with a surprise performance, in acknowledgement of his unequivocal struggle for a non-segregated and non-discriminatory country.
They only got as far as the prison officials, and were predictably refused permission to see Mandela. On the 75th anniversary of the South African Defence Force, the choir was invited to perform. They literally went to new heights, when the Air Force flew them to the summit of the Drakensberg, where the celebration was held. This time a surprise was in store for them. They would eventually perform for the guest of honour, Nelson Mandela, now their President.
June 2006 marked the 30th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto student uprisings. Tribute to this historical event was paid at the Market Theatre, through performances by various artists. Ashley-Botha and the boys accepted the humbling opportunity to be part of the tribute. The youthful choir appropriately acknowledged the special day with an impeccable performance of the national anthem.
Christian Ashley-Botha has played a pivotal role in the musical development of notable musicians, including the Bala brothers, Zwai, Loyiso, Phelo and Clint van der Linde; and the late Deon van der Walt.
Christian Ashley-Botha was awarded The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Bronze by the Presidency - Republic of South Africa for Outstanding contribution in the field of choral music in South Africa. He is married to Betty. They have a son and two daughters. He is now retired, but remains an earnest choir master at heart. He currently lives in Winterton, KwaZulu-Natal.