Classical A truly African celebration

A truly African celebration

In a programme that was as much a reflexive commentary on the vocal career of singing sensation Sibongile Khumalo, as an homage to her father, the late Prof Khabi Mngoma, and exploration of her heritage and African soul, Reflect. Celebrate. Live did not disappoint.

Khumalo performed with panache and professionalism tempered through an exhortation of her inner core, and an unfailing humility. This was evident in Grace and mercy, a work that received a totally committed performance where Khumalo entered the inner sanctum of deep seated emotion. In the same brace of songs, Breath of life was rendered with perfect diction; the work of an accomplished artist.

The concert opened with a thoughtful interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. At the work’s passionately constructed fortissimo pinnacle, regrettably the sound engineers failed the performance through poorly balancing Khumalo’s impassioned vocalizing with that of the string quartet.

This inconsistency in applying amplification followed through to an otherwise sensitively performed duet, Amazing grace, featuring Balungile Gumede. Their two voices merged in a subtle blend, with Khumalo showing her mettle through embracing the gospel style without resorting to vocal gimmicks. Gumede’s talent is one worth watching.

Bach’s Air on a G string was a sumptuous feast of styles where phrases of stylishly performed skatting alternated with pure bel canto. Khumalo’s ease in shifting between styles is a remarkable feat.

In an extensive extract from Jason Yarde’s Reflections of Reverence and Remembrances (a tribute to Bheki Mseleku), Khumalo negotiated a range of emotions and vocal intricacies with ease, though this work was marred by injudicious balance between the piano and string quartet, with the viola being inaudible.

Pianist Mdu Mtshali produced an array of sensitively constructed phrases and thematic fragments within a profusion of tonal colour. His is a highly inventive musical mind, with his fashioning of Khumalo’s songs – Grace and mercy, Breath of life, and We are the conquering ones – into fully-fledged professional works testimony to his abilities.

Drummer Siyabulela Satsha traversed a range of tonal shadings from thunderous impassioned moments to exquisite mixtures of finely etched timbres. Likewise bassist, Bheka Mthethwa’s sheer musicality shone through in improvisations that showcased an expressive voice through a plethora of astounding virtuoso techniques. The trio’s commitment to the task was evident in their careful following of Khumalo’s extended improvisation in Grace and mercy – here was supportive, collaborative music making out of the top drawer.

The 12 voiced choral ensemble sang with musical discipline, professional assurance, outstanding intonation, and with infallible command over memorisation. Samson Diamond led the string quartet with confidence and musical integrity, contributing some eloquently hued solo passages.

This truly African celebration was a welcome addition to the Festival’s programme.

-Jeffrey Brukman-

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