Songs of Lockdown Part IV: Music for Black Lives Matter

The murder of George Floyd was a tipping point for the Black Lives Matter movement during this current pandemic. The Coronavirus has been distressing the African American community. They are struggling to earn their income because of the lockdown and they have most virus infections. This is a result of historic structural issues that keep them at the bottom of American society. Christopher Cooper’s confrontation with a belligerent dog walker who refused to follow the park rules and leash her dog stoked the spirit of this social justice movement.  She called the police and lied about being attacked by a Black man when he confronted her. This incident exposed the ways white privilege works. It could’ve been fatal for Christopher Cooper had he not recorded it.  Ahmed Aubrey and Breonna Taylor were not so fortunate. They were murdered.

The cops that killed Breonna Taylor have still not been sent to prison.

When George Floyd died, Black America went to protest! They filled the streets of every major city in that country. There were protests around the world. Colonising countries had to reckon with their wicked past in ways they have never done before. 

The classical music world was not spared. The calls to de-colonise music education grew louder.  There was a possibility that “Rule, Britannia!”, Jerusalem” and “Land of hope and glory”- perennials at the BBC Proms concerts – would be cut from the programme because of their associations with colonisation and slavery.  They were performed. The organisers commissioned a Black composer, Errollyn Wallen to create a new arrangement of “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory”. South African soprano, Golda Schultz was the soloist. Her participation in the concert as a ‘coloured’ South African adds an interesting flavour to this moment.   

Golda Schultz singing at the BBC Proms.

A few days before the Black Lives Matter Protests I discovered and shared Nina Simone’s brilliant version of the jazz standard, “You can have him”.  The speaker in this song is disappointed by their beloved’s actions and says to his paramour that they can have him. It is very clear from the text that the speaker is still deeply in love. Why would you want to give your beloved a baby every year?

Listen to Ms Simone singing “You can have him.”

Ms Simone’s rendition is sublime. Her piano accompaniment depicts the text so well and her singing captures all the anguish of a disenchanted lover. It is my favourite song of this lockdown and the one I listened to regularly. 

This is how I came across the civil rights anthem, “To be young gifted and Black”. I was sad and bewildered by these killings. The fourth stanza of this piece was the most reassuring during this time. It says,

“When you feel really low

Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know

When you’re young, gifted and Black

Your soul’s intact”

Ms Nina Simone

I spent time on this song and found different versions by different artists. Aretha Franklin turned the song into something she could only sing. Nonetheless, the different renditions reminded me of the lived experiences of Black people in South Africa and the rest world. We have to fight racists and sycophants to have peace in this world.  

Bill Taylor’s “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free” was the next song that kept appearing on my playlist recommendations. The first recording I heard of this peace was by Ms Leontyne Price and the Rust College Choir. She sang it with the technical discipline that can be expected from an opera singer of her calibre. The recording sounds like a folk tune that was sung by the enslaved Black people during a rare moment of rest.  

After I began teaching my singing students remotely. I had to focus on teaching their repertoire. I will share John Legend’s version of “I wish I knew how it feels to be free’ when I introduce the piece to my students. I hope this will lead us to a conversation on Nina Simone, whose rendition is my favourite, and how her music and work in social justice is still relevant today. 

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                                               21 September 2020 in

Songs of Lockdown Part III: Music before choir school

The songs that I shared during the early phase of the lockdown can be categorised into two sections, ‘Music before choir school’ and ‘Music for Black Lives Matter’.

Listening to music from before my years in choir school was a rare opportunity to think about my musical history. I have realised that it is a mistake to think that classical music is ubiquitous in my life.  It is the starting point for most of my work. It is not superior to other kinds of music that I know. I have to move away from classical music in certain parts of my work. In other parts, I have to stay within its boundaries.  I have begun the work to practice this lesson, and others, from this lockdown. This process will take time because this involves unlearning harmful lessons learnt along the way.   

In this clip, Ntokozo Mbambo sings Wongigcina Ngci as part of “The Zulu Worship Medley”. Wongigcina Ngci starts at +-4:30 mins.

The pieces that were the first to get me to think about my musical history was a recording of Ntokozo Mbambo singing of “Wongigcina ngci”and a video clip ofHush Male Groups rendition of “Siyakudumisa” ( Te Deum).  I sent them to my sister and it conjured the same memories for her. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that “Wongigcina ngci” is no. 111 from the isiZulu hymnal, Icilongo leVangeli.  This hymnal and Amagama Okuhlabelela or Umbhedesho Wamaculo Amawisile, where the text of “Siyakudumisa” is published, were to be found in most homes when I was growing up. Icilongo leVangeli was first published in 1905 by Swedish Christian Missionaries. The edition of Amagama Okuhlabelela we have at home was first published in 1965. We have had it for ages. The hymns are set in solfeggio and this is the first notation of music I came across. There hasn’t been a move to transcribe the books to staff notation. Nonetheless, many congregations sing the pieces that they know. They are likely to have a commercial music band, which plays by ear, to accompany them than an organ.  The tech-savvy congregants would’ve downloaded a copy of the hymnal to their phones from the many phone apps with the books.

This is our copy of Icilongo levangeli and Amagama okuhlabelela with the CD of Ms Leontyne Price’s recordings of pieces that I have included in this series.

The video clip of CeCe Winans commemorating the 20th anniversary of her duet with Whitney Houston, “Count on Me” was one of the first clips I sent to friends. Ms Winan’s voice shows no signs of her age. It sounds just as easy and marvellous.  This song was a radio hit when it was released in 1995. This was a difficult time for me. There was a lot of change. It brought comfort during that time. The whole movie soundtrack of Waiting to Exhale, produced by Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, is fantastic. It deserves all the accolades that it received. When Ms Winans referred to Ms Houston as her sister something crept in my throat.

Ms Winans bringing comfort her listeners with her marvellous voice.

Another the duet, “There’s nothing better than love” by Gregory Hines and Luther Vandross which I shared later also reminded me of my father eMagabeni, my lok’shini, during those hot summer days. It was comforting to hear as I sat alone in the house during the early days of the pandemic. I shared it after sharing music from J.S. Bach’s two Passions, “Lissen there, what I tells you… I hate your strutting style”, my favourite aria from Porgy and Bess and wrote an essay on another song. These were the choices that were popular with my musician friends but my family and lay friends were less enthusiastic. “There’s nothing better than love” came right before they asked me to stop sending clips that will finish their data.

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                                                               30 August 2020

Songs of Lockdown Part II: South African Lockdown Level 2

Today is the 154th day of lockdown in South Africa.

An exhausted and appalled South African during lockdown.

The atmosphere in South Africa is amiable compared to the middle of the lockdown. The Covid-19 virus infections are declining. The country passed the peak of infections with enough beds to spare. This confirms that preparations by the Department of Health and the super – early and hard lockdown were effective. The goal for South Africa’s lockdown was to buy time for our Health Department to prepare for the eventual rise in infections. It was not entirely successful in keeping people isolated in their homes, so that they don’t contract the virus, in parts of the country where there are higher levels of poverty. 

It became apparent that if you can afford to send your children to private school, their education will not be severely affected by the lockdown. If you’re poor and rely on state education you may have to write-off this whole year. This could be concluded from the predictable tussle between the teacher unions and the Department of Education (DOE) over the date for learners to return to school and the overall safety for learners and teachers. It seems to be over as more learners are in school today. This tussle was an expression of their unending battle over the state of education. I am convinced that there will be more tussles between the DOE, the unions and civil society because the governing party has not dealt with long-standing difficulties in education.

After initial hick-ups in disbursing the R350 grants, the Department of Social Services has verified and distributed the monies to recipients. I bet, advocates for universal income are preparing strategies to push the government to make this grant continue beyond this pandemic. Our Minister of ‘Garlic with your meal’ is looking at them, wondering where the money will come from.    

More businesses are trading as we wait for President Ramaphosa to announce vital measures to rebuild the economy. Early reports show that they are discussing recovery plans that were already known to government but were not implemented when they were released. As a result, the economy was already in recession when the lockdown happened. The President is still talking to all the relevant stakeholders inside and outside his political party. He says that he is crafting a social contract. Unfortunately, this will take longer because his party is fragmented and he has to have his party members, who are powerful leaders and involved in the looting, agreeing to these measures.

The signs show that they’re not keen to be signatories of this compact. 

Furthermore, the country is appalled by the rampant corruption of politicians and their rent-seeking friends. They have been stealing millions meant to be used for protective gear (PPE). I have never seen this level of condemnation directed to the government. There are members of the governing party who seem to believe that it’s under siege and they come up with amusing and ineffectual tactics to counter the condemnation.  They are not under siege. They’re not used to receiving this level of denunciation for stealing from the poor.  They’re used to looting and then give smooth answers when they are confronted by media and civil society. Even party members that frequent my local tavern, and usually give rational analyses of their party, seem stumped by this moment. I am convinced that this moment is not a simple storm to weather. It is the beginning of a hurricane for them if they fail to address the evils in their organisation.

The alcohol and cigarette ban has been lifted. The poor sangomas can get snuiff for their ancestors who, I imagine, have been demanding it throughout lockdown. The rest of the citizenry can indulge in their vices legally.

Sports Leagues have resumed their games with limited crowds. This is not an issue for South African soccer because their crowds were never big. Nevertheless, Kaizer Chiefs will win the Premier Soccer League.

Theatres are allowed to operate but the cost of observing safety protocols and staging a show is too high. So they are dark until this whole pandemic is over and perhaps there’s sufficient economic recovery. Audiences have the option of streaming shows from international performing arts companies. Some state-owned theatres, in South Africa, are streaming passed productions. It is unclear whether the artists in those productions have been paid for the streaming.

Performing Artists have been severely affected by this lockdown. All their planned income has evaporated. The state had the scheme to support the artists that had lost work. However, the process seemed to favour established artists that are close to the Minister.

I’m glad I’ve kept things simple. It would’ve been too burdensome for me to organise internet concerts, teach my singing students remotely and be sane. I’m planning a musicians’ playdate. I may record one of the pieces for my Youtube channel. 

Sandile Mabaso 29 August 2020

Songs of Lockdown Part I: Comfort in the time of Lockdown

I am tempted to classify the time before the lockdown the way I classify the glorious 1980s or the underrated 1990s. I, hesitantly, recognise that almost 30 years have passed since these decades. Still, some aspect of them like the design aesthetics of the 1980s or the wonderful music composed in the 1990s may come back in this current period. Perhaps aspects of the first two and a half months of 2020, like the hope and the promise, will come back.

I was busy during these months before the lockdown. My students were starting to make progress with their new repertoire. I had confirmed dates and venues where I’ll be performing my newest recital programme called ‘19 Italian Songs and Arias of the 17th & 18th Century’. I’d attended several workshops in preparation to adjudicate the South African Schools’ Choral Eisteddfod. I also reconsidered my decision to leave my stokvel (money-saving club). These were some of the positive things that I was looking forward to experiencing this year. Naturally, I had niggling concerns about each of these developments and others but I’d committed myself to overcome them. 2020 was my year!

All this time the Coronavirus was something happening in Wuhan, China. I’d never heard of this province or thought that a virus that had so much news coverage and caused so much damage there would affect my life too.

Well, it did.

I am writing this piece on the 122nd Day of Corona Virus Lockdown.

In the beginning, I was confused and scared like most people about this virus. I turned to music for comfort. It gave me so much comfort that I shared it with my family, then with friends and colleagues. I was alone at the time and sharing the music, via YouTube clips on WhatsApp, became a lifeline. The conversations each piece would stimulate also brought comfort. Somewhere in between describing the difference between the passion and the nativity or mentioning the strong musical tradition of the Seventh Day Adventist Church we would discuss our feelings. Some of my friends would divulge their pain and loss. Others would try hard to keep their spirits high for my sake and their own. There were a few who flatly denied the existence of the virus. My classical music colleagues responded positively to most of my classical music selections. My sister and my non-muso friends loved all the rhythm ‘n blues selections that were also part of my childhood.

There was a text that came every time I shared a piece and it kept my spirits high it read,

‘Hi, thank you and Take care.’

I also got a request, from a fellow regular patron of Phola’s Bar in Pinetown, to share more South African gospel music. This is when I felt like a true selectA. I didn’t do it. I choose the music I shared because I was nostalgic for a familiar time. There were so many things that we did not know in the early stages of the lockdown. I also realised that South African Gospel music is a part of all the music that brings me joy

Sandile Mabaso                                                                          27 July 2020

Songs in the time of Corona (COVID-19) Day 3/21

To be able to do the work that the Black Lives Matter movement calls us to do, I had to ask: how are Black lives rendered meaningless in my life and work. The answers to this question taught me many things about this world and my place in it. They helped me identify aspects of my life that I needed to change. There were many things that I had to change because we live in a world that does not value women and Black or Brown people. It’s easy for marginalised people to devalue themselves if they’re not aware of what’s happening. Thankfully, my awareness has improved. I am certain that I still have more to learn.

In my work, as an opera singer and singing teacher, white men dominate everything, more than other industries. They get the most pay and get the best opportunities. Some of them died hundreds of years ago and they still get top billing in the performance and the education side of classical music. Their top billing is, moreover, a result of the general disdain for the contribution of women and Black and Brown people in Classical music. I am culpable of this too. I come up with innovative repertoire selections for my singing students and my recitals but the percentage of Black or Brown composers and women composers is marginal. I am trying to improve the percentage but it’s difficult.

It is not impossible, it’s just difficult.

Today’s song of the day is ‘The Dance’. It was composed by Tony Arata and the recording that I will share with you is sang by Bebe Winans and features the saxophonist, Dave Koz. The story of how I got to this song illustrates the challenges I mention in the first two paragraphs.

 

This song is a standard Sunday afternoon jam that is usually played Metro FM by radio DJ’s Eddie Zondi, where he was still with us, or Wilson B. Nkosi. For a long time, I credited the song to Bebe Winans whose rendition is exquisite. I fell in love with the song that I assigned it to one of my students this year. The song, as I knew it, was perfect. It additionally allowed me to increase the percentage of Blackness in my teaching work.  This is very healthy for the general confidence of Black children in private schools or quintile 4 or 5 schools. It’s likely that in these schools, their Blackness will not be portrayed fully. I like to highlight that Black people are beautiful and most capable as a means to complete the picture they may be shown. I danced my happy dance, as I moved along to being THE WOKEST SINGING TEACHER of the YEAR!

My happy dance was disturbed when I was looking for the sheet music. I couldn’t find ‘The Dance’ by Bebe Winans. I remembered being confused when Eddie Zondi would say that it was by Dave Koz, the saxophonist, whom I didn’t pay much attention. Nonetheless, I looked for ‘The Dance’ by Dave Koz. I found a lot of ‘videos but not sheet music. There was even a book called ‘The Dance’ with all the music from the Dave Koz album that kept popping up. It didn’t have the song. Mncm! I stopped looking for the song.

After some time, I searched for the music on Wikipedia. I discovered that the song is composed by Tony Arata and it was first recorded by Garth Brookes, a white country-western singer. Oh Boy! Is the song still a “woke” repertoire selection?

I was slightly irked because this was the second time this happened to me. Last year I assigned the song ‘Stardust’ to a student for his final matric singing exam after I heard a recording of Nat King Cole. After we began working on the piece I discovered that the composer, Hoagie Carmichael, is a white man and one of the artists to record it was Doris Day, a white woman.

‘Stardust’ became my student’s favourite piece. He begged me to sing it at the student’s concert instead of his art song by Donizetti. He achieved a high mark on all his pieces during his final exam. Yay! We will work on ‘The Dance’ with my student this year. We will use the Bebe Winans version as a reference for my ‘woke’ reason (that my student will have a respectable Black singer to refer to when they learn the piece) and because I love it. The Garth Brookes rendition will be used to study different styles of performing one piece. I’m certain that I will always and listen to the Bebe Winans version on YouTube or whenever Wilson B. Nkosi plays it on the radio. Maybe it’ll be my wedding song if that ever happens.

The biggest lesson from this search is that the creation of repertoire selections (or world) that are fair and just is complicated. We must, nevertheless, take the small wins and continue to change it for the better.

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                                        29 March 2020

From the Hillcrest High School Chorale’s Director

I understood the meaning of the idiom, no man is an island, during a rehearsal where my colleagues and I were preparing a programme of duets, trios and quartets. We started by learning our individual parts and then rehearsed together.  The first tutti rehearsal had its own set of challenges which we overcame with repeating each phrase more than once. Once our efforts started to yield results we could hear the music with all its parts combined.  We also started to understand the composer’s intention with the music and our performance of the repertoire improved.

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Hillcrest High School Chorale 2017

I was struck by how each part needed the other parts to complete a beautiful whole. The soprano part, regardless of its brilliance, could not be complete without the tenor or alto part. Each part had to be has to be sung, correctly and in time, together for the music to be complete.

 

This is a musical explanation of tonight’s endeavour. Each choir is a different voice part. For obvious reasons, The Hillcrest High School Chorale is the tenor part. All of tonight’s choirs have been working diligently throughout the year to sing as well as we can. Tonight is our first opportunity to come together and sing for each other. This year, because it’s the first choir festival, we will be presenting different pieces. Next year, we will present a massed choir piece. All the efforts to grow choral music in the Highway area will not yield results if we do not reach out and come together. One choir, any choir, regardless of its brilliance will not be able to enhance choral music in our community.

Many thanks to their choral directors for all their efforts at growing choral music.  And Many thanks to all the choirs members for singing with us.

 

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                                              

02 August 2018                                                                       

On The Colour Purple: The Musical

Alice Walker’s novel The Colour Purple is a heart-rending illustration, amongst other things, of love’s effect on us, human beings. This is ubiquitous in the stage musical incarnation of the story.

A new South African production of this musical is currently showing at the Jo’ burg Theatre until 4 March 2018. There is a production currently touring in the US. It was devised by director John Doyle. It was first presented at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre, UK in 2013. It opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs theatre on Broadway in 2015. The original production was retired because it was too costly.  This made it prohibitive to take it on tour.

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The Full Cast. 

This South African production, devised by home-grown director Janice Honeyman, will tour internationally in 2019

The beginning of this story is unsettling. The audience is introduced to Celie, the main character, who is pregnant with her second baby.  Her step-father is the father of her babies.  The only positive feature of her life is the love she receives from her sister, Nettie. Otherwise, she does hard chores during the day and is raped by her step-father at night. She talks about how she just lays there and thinks of Nettie while this man, twice her size, forces himself on her, an experience she describes as “going to the toilet.”

She does not develop bitterness towards those children. The love she has for them and her sister sustain her when they are taken from her, she loses contact with her sister and is married off to Mister.

Mister never loved Celie. He abuses her until the one he’s always loved, Shug Avery, gives her all the love she needs to prosper. Shug Avery is a sultry blues singer who’s in town to recover from her life on the road. She was Mister’s long-time mistress. The love between Celie and Shug is Queer (gay). It is complicated because they began their affair when they both were involved Mister and it continued when Shug married another musician and moved to Memphis. Nonetheless, it protected Celie from Mister’s beating because he was kinder when Shug was around.

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Celie (Didintle Khunou) and Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase)

Fortunately, Mister takes responsibility for the enmity he sows and he begins to treat everyone with kindness.

Before seeing the show, I was concerned that this show had more hype than substance. I was also concerned that it would neglect the truth and legitimacy of black people, by irrationally blaming us for our condition in Georgia, US in the early 1900s, or have white people as the centre of this story. I did not see this in this production.

It would have been very sad if this was the case. This story is by a respected black author and it is championed by one of my favourite women, Oprah Winfrey.

My concerns had my antennae ready to detect any faults in the musical and production. The singing was the first to win me over. This happened within the first few minutes of the show.  It was glorious. The songs were not generic as one tends to find in over hyped musical theatre. The whole cast gave committed performances. Didintle Khunou, Celie, has a light and colourful voice that she uses effectively throughout the show. Her petite frame is perfect in portraying this character. Neo Motaung was a delight as Sofia. Her portrayal of this character did not mimic anyone. Her duet with Harpo, Any little thing is the high point of her portrayal. It is worth highlighting because it shows a couple that has a big woman being amorous. This is not often seen. Lerato Mvelase, Shug Avery, is a beautiful singer and all round performer. In this show, we heard her middle to lower register. This was a pleasure to hear. Aubrey Poo gave a steady performance as Mister and Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri singing and portrayal of Harpo was pleasing.

The set, designed by Sarah Roberts was so long that it flowed into the orchestra pit. This was unnecessary.  There was enough space on the stage to give the open feel of the rural plains in Georgia. The height of the stage and the wonderful use of the colour purple, and all the other colours, also gave this feeling. The use of planks on the set was monotonous. They made it difficult to distinguish parts of the set.

Fortunately, the planks and the size of the stage does not take away from the impact of this production. May this show be seen by many South Africans before it tours internationally.

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                               24 February 2017

We’re so nostalgic

South Africans often wallow in nostalgia. We do this; notwithstanding apartheid, colonisation and other forms of injustice towards women and gay people. Nostalgia is helpful to understand the path to our current position. It is unfortunate when it takes the time needed to imagine a new and better Afrika.

Last weekend, I was bathing in nostalgia. I was visiting Johannesburg, a year after I moved back home to Durban, to watch The Fugard Theatre’s production of King Kong. It felt good to walk through the city as I did when I lived there. I loved seeing what had become of my favourite places. Much has changed. Johannesburg is a construction site. I’m sure, it’ll change even more after the new mayor and his administration have proven their point. Mostly, my heart is full from reminiscing with my friends on our escapades (sometimes dodgy) in the city.

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I took this picture on the corner of Eloff & Jeppe Streets. My first flat in the city was in the building on the right.

The annual Joy of Jazz Festival was happening during the weekend. Its programming was nostalgic in a problematic way. I did not attend it.

King Kong stokes South Africa’s nostalgia. This is not too problematic. South African audiences get to see the stage show that launched the careers of artists such as Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbuli, Hugh Masekela. Unfortunately, we hear and see these artists ad nauseam and at the expense of the needed work of  creating a better arts sector in South Africa. They are often featured in the Joy of Jazz Festival with other artists of their era.

The storyline of this jazz opera is charming. It involves a virile boxer, a glamorous shebeen queen. There’s unrequited love, other sad moments and a wedding to make everyone feel better. The music is beautiful and catchy. There should be a national endeavour to perform more works by Mr. Todd Matshikiza. Next year is an important anniversary for the composer. The dancing is spirited and there’s enough eye candy for all those interested.

This production is beautiful. It is filled with glamour. Unfortunately this erases the social context of the characters. One cannot successfully tell the story of Black People by erasing their social context or any unpalatable part of their lives.  I was concerned whether the scale of the set was going to be too small for the Nelson Mandela Stage at the Jo’burg Theatre? It was not. Characters had to climb down the a steep flight of stairs to get to Joyce’s shebeen, Back ‘o the Moon. This enhanced the illicit nature of shebeens in Sophiatown. The moving boxing ring and prison rails were my favourite. The movement of the prison rails were effective as rails and in showing the passing of his sentence. There was a wonderful interaction between the characters throughout the show. Gregory Maqoma’s choreography was inspired. It infused energy to the piece which can easily feel dated.

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The whole cast gave committed performances. However, Lerato Mvelase’s portrayal of Petal was outstanding. Her appearances on the theatre stages are always a pleasure.

It was meaningful to watch this production in this time when there are loud and difficult conversations on the status of Black People in the world. And to consider the progress (or non-progress) of South African musical theatre from King Kong to Ipi Ntombi, Sarafina 1 & 2, Umoja, The Lion King. It’s a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reach Azania.

Sandile Mabaso                                                                                  4 October 2017

 

Where are the women’s voices?

Playhouse-Co-Womens-Festival-382x1024Whenever our government plans a commemoration of women in our country; it is safe to expect that, at worst, they’ll miss the point or, at best, ignore the current discourse by feminists on the issues. This discourse has valuable information on racism and other prejudice in South Africa. The dialogue roster at the 21st South African Women’s Arts Festival presented by the The Playhouse Company (an agency of the Department of Arts & Culture) is a perfect example of disregarding this discourse. It would’ve have been wonderful to hear one of the young feminists advancing the conversation on women’s issues and teaching on topics such as intersectionality and my personal favourite topic ‘self-care’. Instead, there was a dialogue with the tired topic of ‘Women Leadership for a better society’. Duh. Women have been working to create a better society for ages. Whether they’ve been leaders or in the background their work has ensured that society has grown and survived.

The better part of this year’s festival was the fantastic shows that were presented at this festival. I went to see two of them. La Boheme and Suddenly the Storm. I have to stretch far; to find the connection between the shows and the current discourse.

The festival’s presentation of La Boheme was Gauteng Opera’s production that was recently presented at the Jo’burg Theatre. It was wonderful to hear the sumptuous sounds of the KwaZulu- Natal Philharmonic Orchestra. They have the best sound of all orchestras in the country. However, it was the singing that surpassed all forces displayed on the opening night. Especially, the singing of the gentleman who portrayed the character of Marcello, and the ladies who portrayed Mimi and Musetta*. She stole the show with her delightful acting and singing. Marcello’s voice is a pleasure to hear. It was consistent throughout the performance. It is easy to visualise the relationship between Marcello and Musetta happening in any South African setting. The lady that sang the role of Mimi gave a committed performance of the character.

My wish for this current production of Suddenly the Storm is that it gets a long life. This play is superb.  My favourite is the set. It has a working tap! This is most refreshing in a time when most productions have this make believe thing with sets and props. It’s okay when it’s consistent. Mostly, it’s never used not consistently.

The text in this pieces is a wonderful foundation for all elements needed to tell the story on stage.  The crucial part of the play, when the title of the play makes sense and an important relationship is revealed, had me slapping my thigh and covering my gaping mouth at the same time. The whole cast gave committed and stellar performances. My personal favourite was the lady who portrayed Shanel. She was the ultimate Bokburg Barbie. Suddenly the Storm is a special piece of South African theatre. May we see many more eThekwini.

And, may we do better in commemorating and reflecting women’s issues.

Sandile Mabaso

* There was no official programme to record the names.

A note from the Opera Gala

Hallo Everybody!

Singing is a South Africa tradition. It is part of our society’s routine. This is why most South Africans are good singers. We practice our singing when we sing in church, at funerals and weddings. I’ve heard South Africans sing, as a group, before and after their work shifts. The habit of joining when a person starts a chorus/ song is, probably, the most common way we all get to practice. Our communal singing is also enjoyable. It involves a ‘step’ and a hummed verse or ‘thululu’ verse to ensure that the meaning of the song is felt.

This concert draws on this strength.

PHOTO: Kavish Rajpaul This is the moment when the audience stood up, spontaneously, during The Vusisizwe Choral Society’s stirring rendition of The African National Anthem. This moment was everything.

It also draws on the strength of men and women who love music. They’re not necessarily musically gifted. Yet, they are willing to lend their time and skill to support these endeavours. We are able to host this concert because of these people. Thank you.

PHOTO: Kavish Rajpaul An audience member looking at the programme.

The music in this concert consists of arias, chorus and piano pieces from different eras. To us, the music is delightful. We, the artist, hope that it pleasing to you, our audience.

PHOTO: Kavish Rajpaul Lara and I

Thank you for taking time and being with us.

Yours,

Sandile Mabaso