Category: Indigenous

Zimbabwean music legend Oliver Mtukudzi performs at DSG Hall venue in Grahamstown on 10 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The singer/guitarist performed to a fully booked venue.  Mtukudzi is joined on stage by Alice Muringayi on vocals, Enock Piriro on bass guitar and Tendai Samson Mataure on drums. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

It took seven minutes for Oliver Mtukudzi and his band to get on stage. It took less than three for him to have me in tears. The Zimbabwean-born musician is an emcee, adjudicating the dance electric – and last night, in front of a packed crowd at DSG Hall, he gave the performance of a lifetime.

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Pops Mohamed performs at the DSG Hall in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Mohamed performed alongisde Dave Reynolds, Frank Paco, Tony Cedras and Sylvain Baloubeta. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

If you know the kora music of Malian maestro Toumani Diabaté, put it out of your mind. Pops doesn’t play like Diabaté; he plays the kora like the KhoiSan / Bushmen speak. Late in the set he actually references the KhoiSan. If you don’t know the kora, it’s an African gourd-harp. Near the end of the gig (on a tune called, appropriately, Ons Gaat Huis Toe), Mohamed stands on the edge of the stage and plays the long-necked instrument directly at us. Jimi Hendrix could have learnt a thing or two about priapic presentation from Pops!

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hristian Carver, Andrew Tracey and Troy Rist from the Andrew Tracey Calypso Band performing at the Transnet Great Hall in Grahamstown on 4 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival (Photo: CuePix/Hlumela Mkabile).

On Saturday 4 July the International Library of African Music (ILAM) hosted Celebrating African Music, a festive concert marking ILAM’s 60th anniversary, at Transnet Great Hall.

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Last year the Mzansi Youth Choir reached new heights when they headlined the Aarhus Vocal Festival (AAVF), Europe’s largest contemporary vocal festival. This year, continuing from that success, the choir performs at the Festival for the first time.

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Derek Gripper (Sara Steiniger)

It is hard and sophisticated work translating music composed on the kora, a 21-string African harp-lute, onto a six-string guitar. But it’s the kind of challenge that South African musician Derek Gripper has embraced wholeheartedly. On Friday night, he mesmerised his sell-out audience by playing music from his first album, One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali.

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The rich sounds of traditional African instruments fill the chapel. Passion and rhythm mix on stage, and by the time the musicians bow to the audience, sweat drips from their chins. The Origins – Ekugaleni, performed by the Sibikwa Arts Indigenous Orchestra, combines the old and the new with contemporary music performed on traditional instruments. The orchestra is a young, talented group of musicians who’re dedicated to reinventing the sound of traditional instruments for contemporary culture. The eight-member ensemble was awarded a 2011 Standard Bank Ovation Award for 2011 for its exciting and innovative work.

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I encountered Vuyisile Mboyi sitting outside the Settlers’ Monument strumming on a make-shift violin. I found myself hoping the hybrid musical instrument in his hand –  which recalled indigenous instruments like the Uhadi (bow with calabash) or uMrhubhe (bow with string) – was part of his longing to restore the lost traditions of indigenous music, a sound that appears to have very little place at Festival.

The truth, however, is that Mboyi did not know much about the Uhadi and uMrhubhe, and rightfully so – in Xhosa culture they are played by women.

“I made the violin after I saw one at a second-hand shop in town,” he explained.

Mboyi’s makeshift instrument is made from an old tin of Glen tea, a piece of plank, gut and a broken peg; he used a stick and fishing line for the bow. Proud that he could play a version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika using his handmade instrument, Mboyi is clearly aware of the various materials he can manipulate to improvise an instrument he probably knows very little about – and will probably never own.

Born in 1945, Mboyi moved to Grahamstown eight years ago, having prerviously worked on a farm in Maine Flat, near Port Alfred. He currently lives in District D, with his sister and her son. Unemployed, he rarely visits town. With no formal work, Mboyi relies on his guitar to earn an income during Festival.

The annual flock of visitors to Grahamstown is an opportunity for him to showcase his music and hopefully even find a saviour to help him record the numerous tunes he plays.

“I wish I could record a CD of all my songs,” he said. “My favourite is Itliziyo yam Ibuhlungu (my heart is aching).”

Mboyi’s is a common story, one of many untold that lurk at the edge of Festival. But Mboyi, who does see himself as part of Festival, is not a victim: he has learnt ways to manipulate audiences, carefully selecting songs they will respond to. Using his special instrument, which only he understands, Mboyi shows that being resourceful is part of the creative act.

Same Mdluli

The San were musical pioneers and, being nomads, they travelled throughout Southern Africa interacting with each and every tribe of people they encountered. San musical instruments, such as the mouth-bow and ankle rattles, and San dances such as the imitating of animals and clapping in circles, travelled the country with them. They were also a peace-loving people.

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The Soil is a Johannesburg-based a cappella group consisting of young artists Buhlebendalo Mda, Ntsika Fana Ngxanga, Luphindo Ngxanga, Tshwarelo Maluka and Asanda Mqiki.

The group of two men and three women started singing together at school. “It was about 25 of us in a group of friends and we just jammed. We just sang together and created music,” Ntsika said. In 2004, the group that eventually became The Soil decided to get together and become serious about making music.

“We even sacrificed school holidays to practise together. The name The Soil came to us all in a dream. It chose us. The Soil means that it is raw and basic plus it covers a lot of ground both physically and metaphorically,” Mda said.

The group draws on a number of musical legends and inspiration. Each brings their own sense of unique sound and style. “When we started out we drew inspiration from church, the playground, TV and school. Now we draw on inspiration from jazz, hip hop, kwaito and rap. We make beats with our voices, hands and feet. We also beat-box,” Mda said.

Unlike most other a cappella outfits, the group writes their own music, with a contemporary and uniquely South African sound which can be described as “Kasi Soul”. “We convey messages of hope and love and also address social issues at the same time through song. Anyone can relate to our special message,” Ntsika said.

They were Ovation Award-winners last year. Mda said it feels good to be appreciated and acknowledged. The group also say they are unchanged regardless of the recognition that accompanied the award. “We don’t sing for the money or the hype. It is rather about relating to togetherness,” Maluka said. “We are all very grounded people and our family and our values keep us humble,” Ngxanga said.

The group sings in English, Tswana and isiXhosa. “The music accommodates all ages and races. The music is unique because we bring the NOW to something you have once heard before. I feel like the music is a breath of fresh air,” Mda said.

– Alexandra Smith –

Iphondo leMpuma Koloni lityebile ngokwenkcubeko, umculo, nomdaniso, kweyalonyaka iNational Arts Festival sibone amaqela amninzi avela kweli phondo, ebonisa ukutyeba kwale nkcubeko yabo , phantsi kwenkqubo esihloko esithi Rhythms of The Eastern Cape. U-Zinziswa Mani usityhilela ukutyeba kweliphondo kwi-podcast yakhe.

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