Thursday, April 22, 2010

Africa Meets West

I never thought I’d live to see the day in which a Mozart opera would be sung in Xhosa. Nor did I ever expect to see an entire Zulu opera. Yet two works seem to have exceeded everyone’s expectations: The Magic Flute - Impempe Yomlingo, Mark Dornford-May’s adaptation of Mozart’s original work featuring Mzilikazi Khumalo, and Themba Msimang’s Princess Magogo, based on the life of the legendary Zulu princess.

Both these productions went on to receive world-wide acclaim, with Impempe Yomlingo also winning the Oliver award for Best Musical Revival. One critic said one can start a conversation at a dinner table about South Africa and the evening may end without touching the subject of opera, pointing to the fact that when one speaks of South Africa, the subject of opera barely comes to mind. Another mentioned how Msimang's Princess Magogo successfully blended traditional Zulu elements with operatic conventions. Some have described it as an important fusion, a “perfect” union of western and African culture.

Considering the seriousness and the amount of time and work that goes into producing an opera, it is not surprising that these works received so much attention. However, I would like to point out the fact that the important fusion or “perfect” union that is spoken of is not a new phenomenon. The practice of blending elements from two or more different cultures is as old as mankind. From vaudeville, minstrels, jazz to today’s house and kwaito music – even the popular music we listen to every day also came about in this way. Musical genres such as marabi, kwela, maskanda (with artists such as Phuzushukela, and Ihashi Elimhlophe), mbaqanga (popularized by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens), and isicathamiya (popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo) are all marriages between Western and African cultures. Even kwaito, house, and hip hop, are all a blend of South African elements with European or American musical elements.

It is easy to brush popular music aside and not think about the meaning it carries, I suppose because we are so accustomed to it. However, I am glad that we have reached a point where operas can be South Africanized because then we can see the meaning that the work carries and strive for what it does, that is, for a perfect union between Africa and the West.

Ignatia Madelane, SABC Music Library

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome any feedback and comments!