These selections below mark how this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) is promoting an understanding of how electronica and film/drama is influencing contemporary (aka ‘urban’) African music and South African and African jazz and musical drama.
FUTURE NOSTALGIA SOUNDSYSTEM with ATIYYAH KHAN AKA EL CORAZON These series of video and audio recordings by music and arts journalist and DJ, Atiyyah Khan (El Corazon) and her co-producer visual artist Grant Jurius (Futurist), explore new ways of listening to music using various technologies, including reviving the vinyls of old and electronica. Eight themes, each around 1 hour 20 minutes long, explore Black Music in South Africa, Decolonisation, Islam and North African music, Futurism, and Beats and Global Sound systems. Through regular events over the past seven years in Cape Town, they have aimed to create safe spaces not only for black artists but for black audiences as well. This duo presents the unusual and the often misunderstood, covering an impressive variety of sounds, instruments, and styles from African countries. I found these themes particularly moving:
ROTATIONS OF BISMILLAH by El Corazon: This session explores and deconstructs what is meant by ‘African’ music and connects deeply to the Islamic musical traditions on the continent. Tracks include various field recordings and records from Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Niger, Guinea, Gambia and more. This zine with 24 tracks brings archival material (assembled from collaged record covers) and poetry, with Khan telling her story about why she has sought, as an independent journalist, to deconstruct this music into an understandable form. Throughout the session themes, the tracks are labeled at which minute they start in the audio tape. This makes it easy to follow and know what is playing.
BLACK MUSIC UNDER APARTHEID by El Corazon: Sixteen tracks present the historical gambit of how musicians expressed their music during struggles under Apartheid, and include key recordings from Legends such as Kippie Moeketsi, Tete Mbambisa, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dudu Pukwana, and others. Khan is thinking realistically in her presentations how the after-effects of Apartheid still continue to this day.
In the SHADES OF JAZZ session, co producer Grant Jurius, aka Futurist, narrates how he has been influenced to bring his love of hip-hop together with jazz. He shares the music of home musicians, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Robbie Jansen, Sethima Bea Benjamin, Moses Molelekwa, and the UK/South African collaboration of Shabaka & The Ancestors. Watch paintings emerge of these legends as the music is presented.
NYEGE NYEGE: THE IRRESISTIBLE URGE TO DANCE – A VIEW ON CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN MUSIC
Music “ incubators” gather some fascinating mixes of African musical traditions, from Islamic histories to dancing themes to contemporary electronic and digital sounds inspired by both rural and urban spaces. These are listening sessions (each about 30 min) and also videos of the various artists from around Africa who belong to Nyege Nyege, a collective based in Kampala, Uganda. You’ll hear “psychotomimetic appeal” as electronics take over speeds, melodies, and rhythms experienced in the Singeli scene of Dar es Salaam, or the Nairobi-based GENGETONE. ACHOLITRONIX of northern Uganda is hypnotic and engaging, thanks to its producer and DJ, Leo Palayeng, along with curator, Otim Alpha, who arranges the dance music for ceremonies. Malian DJ Diaki’s style of balani awakens the spirits from the dead, using laptop, mic and drum machines. Moving to the videos, Duma presents sounds from Nairobi’s flourishing underground metal scene with the duo music makers pushing the boundaries of grind, metal, electronica and industrial through their own experimentation. Harsh tones of frustration, if not anger, emerge as the rapper stomps over corrugated iron sheets. Lady Kenyan rapper, MC Yallah, based in Uganda delivers a fast-paced performance enhanced with her over-sized Afro hair and red eye glasses, and three sassy, energetic female dancers with attitude. Then enter HHY & THE KAMPALA UNIT with a masked, synthetic percussionist dressed in Covid-19 protective gear, accompanied by a trumpeter, all making polyrhythmic Ugandan futuristic music. This is a whopping inside view of Africa’s urban youth expressing themselves and warning about the future.
Point of Humanness, a Fringe offering with the NAF, is a visual worthy of pure uninterrupted focus as ‘humanness’ unfolds: in dark moods (ashes), watching a paper boat float on nature’s stream (drifting), an adult engaging in child’s play, time-lapse photography watching nature update itself, and movement in dance being the catalyst for healing. The viewer is asked to reflect on what humanness means in each of these visual moments. Be ready to engage on the Point of Humanness Facebook page!
Music composer and flutist, Stacey van Schalkwyk, wrote some of the narratives which carry visual moods, humour, and wonderment as these five videos tell stories about how earth and humans can create joy and channel connections that establish more loving community. Poems were written and performed by Kizito Mukasa and Chantal Snyman. Van Schalkwyk’s son, Yashin Naidoo, adds value through his cinematographic choreographies and rhythmic percussion. Camera shots of dramatic flora (colorful autumn leaves) or wild fauna (a wolf face, a hopping toad) pull the viewer into familiar realities of what we earthlings can experience, appreciate, and protect in nature for mutual healing. Dance is seen as strength in movement, making humanness invincible and able to break out into a unique freedom of purpose. Even poets and musicians in this performance recorded their respective sounds on their cell phones during this age of Covid virus-produced social distancing. Point of Humanness is a poignant reminder of how fragile yet sustainable our physical universe is if we just stay aware of all the healing modalities around us.
The Silence of Texture – Cara Stacey
This is a visually sonic treat as we watch visual artist, Mzwandile Buthelezi, draw to indigenous sounds of Cara Stacey’s nyungwe-nyungwe, umrhubhe, and umtshingo instruments, while guitarist Keenan Ahrends plucks out both indigenous musical styles and jazz improvisation. Some melodic, some less harmonic, but all songs produce a texture translated onto the painting-in-process. Buthelezi doesn’t skimp on form; rather, unidentifiable shapes and movements fill the easel’s paper. It’s gentle and solemn. The sound of his charcoal crayon moving on the paper is like breathing onto the musical instruments. Ahrends makes some effective impressionistic runs as Stacey’s instruments stay contained, including modernistic piano classical strains that surprise. The music finishes; the painting takes shape. This is another multi-media artistic gem for the festival!
OTHER MUSIC FROM AROUND SOUTH AFRICA
The delightful Kwathi ke Kaloku (Once Upon a Time), presented by the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA) in the eFringe lineup, is a celebration of Xhosa children’s literature and indigenous music by award-winning author and storyteller, Sindiwe Magona, and renowned local musician, Bongani Sotshononda and his United Nations of Africa band. Kwathi ke Kaloku presents two of Magona’s well-known children’s tales, “The best meal ever!” and “Stronger than lion” to the live soundtrack of enchanting instruments, like Sotshononda’s marimba, young percussionist SISONKE GODLO’s kora and kudu horns. English subtitles are shown in the video. Two dramatists act out animal characters as well as both child and adult characters who struggle with realities of poverty, abandonment, and the exigencies of power. Stories of struggles in the animal kingdom are told, like a mouse confronting and overcoming the challenges of the lion, so that the children can fall asleep hoping their mother will return with food when they awake. Written by Mogona, who also guides the narrative aurally, these stories unfold lessons in hope and bravery, touching to all that view it. This is certainly a top-listed offering of this year’s eFringe musical dramas.
Pleasant enough, fast-rising Afro-soul star, Ami Faku, from the Eastern Cape, boasts a number of awards and spotlights as she combines traditional Afro soul sensibilities with modern pop. Her delivery of soft ballads and upbeat pop swing with a pleasantly husky voice expressed believable emotion. Faku introduces each song with an explanation of the why’s and what’s – very helpful to those who do not understand isiXhosa. Hers is something to watch, and her debut album, Imali, worthy of acclaim.
VUKAZITHATHE (MASKANDI DOCUMENTARY)
Do those Maskandi kicks in the comforts of your own home, but don’t scare the cat! Get a visual feast of the South African landscape in this film as Nthato Mokgata (aka Spoek Mathambo), Standard Bank’s Young Artist for Music, narrates the history of Maskandi music from his home area in KwaZulu Natal. While the Cape has its Ghoema, KZN has another very danceable expression which, Mokgata says, heals himself and others, not just medically but spiritually. In this film, he has now risen up with a new energy and spiritual purpose, joining forces with fellow maskandi artist, Bhekisenzo ‘Vukazithathe’Cele. The film follows these two Nguni artists of two different generations, cultures and musical traditions, Mokgata considering himself not only a filmmaker in this case, but also an alternative hip-hop musician. They are seen joyfully bantering about life and music, in general. It’s a delightful romp through beautiful rolling hills, life stories, and the power of healing.