Music of the Rainbow Nation

This year’s Soundstreams concert season was supposed to feature a performance by the Nelson Mandela University Choir.  The current student and other social unrest in South Africa led to that tour being cancelled and left Soundstreams with the problem of organising a replacement line up in just four and a half weeks.  I think they should be congratulated for sticking with the South African theme and producing the line up we saw last night subtitled A Tribute to Nelson Mandela’s Dream.


It also leaves any reviewer, but especially this one, faced with disentangling an “objective” review of the music on offer, commentary on what the organisers were trying to convey and one’s personal reaction to something steeped in the successes and failures of something one once played a part, albeit small, in.  For this was no ordinary concert presentation.  As well as featuring an eclectic mix of South African and South African inspired music it also featured a kind of linking narrative featuring actors Batsile Ramasodi and Kim Sanssoucie representing, perhaps, what my generation of activists  achieved in helping bring about the fall of apartheid contrasted with the perspective of today’s young South Africans who can reasonably ask how The Dream got so royally screwed up.  I’m not sure music can answer that but it can certainly explore the emotions engendered.


So to the music.  The concert was framed by contributions by Lorraine Klaasen and her band.  She sings a super high energy jazz/pop rooted in the townships.  It’s brash, unapologetic and in it’s way as subversive now as when her mother was a star in the 50s and 60s.  It was only fitting that they were joined by the entire cast to rock the house out with the final number Khawuleza.  In between we got a highly eclectic combination of contemporary music. There was Kevin Volans’ high energy Abhaya for percussion quartet and several contributions from the Nathaniel Dett Chorale disguised as The Rainbow Chorus for this special evening.  There was Sydney Guillaume’s Mama Afrika; a Creole text crying out for redemption for the people of Haiti and the African diaspora.  There was Brian Tate’s Africa which mixes up Ghanaian church music with Latin texts in a song of inspiration and commitment to continuing the struggle.  Gabriel Dharmoo’s Futile Spells got its world premier in the presence of the composer.  This asks, in a witty use of extended voice, if the rituals or spells of defunct civilizations could’t prevent their demise then what faith should we have in them?  There were also excerpts from Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars sung quite beautifully by Joshua Hopkins with Jeff McLeod on piano and the Rainbow Chorus in support.  This “Musical Tragedy” is based on Alan Paton’s 1948 novel Cry the Beloved Country; perhaps the ur text of the anti-apartheid movement.


I remember seeing South Africa play Australia at the MCG in 1994.  It was an event I never expected to see in my lifetime.  Many of my comrades didn’t make it that far.  It was deeply emotional in a simple and affirming way.  Last night was also deeply emotional but in a far more complex and bitter-sweet way.


Photo’s are from the dress rehearsal.  Joshua Hopkins is a much sharper dresser than he appears here!

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