Miagi Youth Orchestra Is For Our Time

SHMF 2018
The Miagi Orchestra in full musical flow.

DIANE DE BEER

The electric Miagi Orchestra with their primary partner the German Embassy in Pretoria is hosting a Gala Concert on November 30 at 8pm in the ZK Matthews Hall, Unisa, Pretoria continuing their celebrations of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela which was part of an earlier European tour. They hope to emulate their international successes and awards locally.

Participating in the event with the orchestra is Just 6 African vocal a cappella ensemble, musician/composer/conductor and Miagi veteran Tshepo Tsotetsi as well as clarinettist Visser Liebenberg and pianist Roelof Temmingh. The conductor is young American Daniel Spaw who was named First Kapellmeister and Associate Music Director at Theater Hof (Germany) in 2017 following a successful period as Kapellmeister at the Landestheater Linz in Austria. The Nashvillian has degrees in both piano and conducting from Indiana University (Bloomington).

Apart from his young age, his truly impressive experience as conductor of opera and musicals, he has worked with orchestras such as the Hofer Symphoniker, the Bruckner Orchester Linz, the National Youth Orchestra of Germany, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, the Rheinische Philharmonie and the Russian Chamber Philharmonic St. Petersburg.

The programme includes compositions by Beethoven, Just 6 African a cappella vocal ensemble, Tshepo Tsotetsi, Leonard Bernstein, and in conclusion, Improvisations by the ‘MIAGIcians.

SHMF 2018
Exuberant music making.
SHMF 2018
The appreciation of international audiences.

Visser who has been a member of the Miagi Orchestra for the past five years and joined them for this, his second international Miagi tour, is a freelance clarinetist, who performs as a soloist, chamber musician, and an ad-hoc clarinet player for KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Temmingh, with similar credentials and viewed as one of our exciting young prospects, will join him for the the final exhilarating Riffs, in Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs

Just 6 has toured internationally together with the Miagi Orchestra in 2016 and 2018 and became popular with the larger South African public as finalists in 2017 in SA’s got Talent. They have their roots in gospel music and call their sound Afro-cal Play (African Vocal Play), a mixture of African indigenous sounds as well as smooth harmonies. They have a readymade reputation winning a best a capella award at the Crown Gospel Music Awards, a best a capella album at the Independent National Gospel Music Awards, and best religious song and album at the 2014 Contemporary A Capella Recording Awards. Two of the original members left the group but they have managed to secure two new members to allow them to continue with their Afro-cal-play.

Tsotetsi is both part of the orchestra and has conducted them often with his own compositions. Together with Austrian Jazz composer, trombonist and pianist Christian Muthspiel, he composed Out of South Africa – Symphonic Suite on Themes by Tshepo Tsotetsi which was featured in earlier concerts. He is also the founder of the “New Skool’ movement, the name that also describes his style of music which will be performed on the night. Following the Miagi ethos, it is a mix of different genres with jazz and African sounds dominant.

SHMF 2018
The appreciation of international audiences.

Over the past 18 years Miagi has developed its brand around the uniting of music genres; Western classical, jazz and ancient indigenous/traditional (African classical) and the many vibrant urban South African music styles that developed from the last century until today.

“In this process, we developed our very fine youth orchestra, Miagi Youth Orchestra playing music representing all the above-mentioned genres with eclectic results,” says executive director Robert Brooks.

During their Mandela-driven July/August European tour where, as is customary, they packed the concert halls from Hamburg to Brussels, Amsterdam to Berlin and wowed their audiences, they also. added to their international accolades. At a festive award ceremony on August 3 at the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Miagi Orchestra was awarded the prestigious Yoeurope-award (Your Europe) of the European Cultural Foundation PRO EUROPA.

The recommended motivation was that both the organisation and its young musicians stand for inspiring support of the necessary dialogue between people of different cultures, colour and religions as well as between Africa and Europe. Previous recipients included Daniel Barenboim, Placido Domingo, Mary Robinson and Mikhail Gorbachev.

I was fortunate to witness this orchestra in Berlin a few years ago and with the critical Berlin audience completely under their spell, Miagi managed to lead them all out onto the city square in front of the impressive Konzerthaus where they joined the musicians in song. It was breathtaking as this group of young South Africans held the Berlin public in the palm of their hands.

Described as the orchestra ‘with a difference’ because of their diverse backgrounds, but also playing with a youthful exuberance that is infectious and inspiring, they are the kind of ambassadors our late President would have endorsed wholeheartedly.

Inexplicably, the Miagi Orchestra have grown their reputation internationally much more successfully than back home. The reasons aren’t clear because their local performances not well attended are magical and capture the spirit of what this diverse orchestra is all about. Their musical talent and expertise are all on display and they always bring more than the music. It is their presence, their obvious joy in performance and the way they present the music which all indicates their contemporary edge which engages audiences of all ages.

The Miagi management team under the leadership of Brooks and creative manager Ingrid Hedlund are driven by a mission that states that they want to unite the power of classical, indigenous and jazz and in this way offer a key to positive social development and to deep understanding among people across all borders.

As their name Miagi so majestically flaunts, music is a great investment – not only in money but also in time.

Booking at Computicket.

A Mighty Man and His Music – Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo

prof khumalo2
Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo and his passion for choral music.

At a recent conference held at Unisa titled The Intellectual Legacy of Professor James Steven Mzilikazi Khumalo, DIANE DE BEER discovered how this great man became the focus of this event and why it is so important to relook at all these iconic figures who need to have the spotlight refocused on their work and their achievements:

African American Naomi André, an Associate Professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, first started a collaboration with Professor Brenda Mhlambi (Associate Professor of African Languages and Assistant Dean of Humanities at Wits) and Dr Donato Somma (Senior Lecturer in Music, Wits School of Arts) around 8 years ago (in 2010).

“I was interested in learning more about the opera scene in South Africa, especially after the dismantling of apartheid and had heard about Bongani Ndodana Breen’s Winnie: The Opera,” she says. They saw the premiere (at the State Theatre in Pretoria, 2011) and then published a cluster of articles on it in African Studies something that will also happen with the Khumalo conference to enhance his public profile.

prof khumalo speakers1
Diliza Khumalo, Naomi André, Donato Somma, Brenda Mhlambi

Her focus becomes clear and her interest in Mzilikazi Khumalo and the continuation of her South African collaboration is illuminated with the knowledge that she is the author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (University of Illinois Press, 2018) which examines race, gender, and sexuality in opera in the US and South Africa.

Following the first collaboration, she was again involved with her two former collaborators in organising a broader conference where she met Dr Thomas Pooley  (from Unisa who served as conference convenor) with a mutual interest in choral and indigenous music. They all decided then that a working symposium that honoured the great legacy of Prof. Mzilikazi Khumalo as a linguist, choral composer, and opera composer would be a good idea.

“My main goal was (and continues to be) to find a way to have Khumalo’s works become better known, become integrated into school curricula (secondary and tertiary education in South Africa and abroad), performed more regularly, and generate scholarship on South African music,” she says. They also wanted to start small with people directly involved either as family, friends or colleagues as well as academics in the field.

In all these endeavours, she knew that collaboration was a no-brainer. “My (South African) colleagues are terrific as they knew that in order to do this, we would need to bring scholars together with members of the Khumalo family, SAMRO, and people close to Khumalo (such as conductors and musicians who had worked with him) as a way to start the process of getting this music out into a wider public.”

They realised that as South Africa is moving to decolonize their curricula and structures of knowledge, it was fitting to shine more light on Prof. Khumalo (as he is familiarly known) and his work in many interlocking areas with language, linguistics, choral music, and large operatic ventures for example Princess Magogo which was also staged at the State Theatre.

Prof khumalo speakers
Themba Msimang (keynote speaker and librettist), Nomavenda Mathiane, a sister, organiser Thomas Pooley and niece, Seloane Matoase

On board were both family members as well as friends and colleagues who could speak about the man and his work giving a very personal insight of how the one informed the other. For those listening it was more than an educational endeavour. The role of music in his life was evident as the different speakers (with audience members) broke into song regularly by way of illustrating a point about the music man under the spotlight. This was after all the best way to tell his story.

What stood out was the central role Prof Khumalo played in this country’s vibrant choral tradition and that, all the speakers agreed was why he had to be in concert halls and in classrooms.

Music was always central in his life and when his family members spoke, (a son, Diliza Khumalo and a sister, Nomavenda Mathiane) they captured the essence of a man whose life revolved around music. “He involved us all in his music,” said Khumalo Jnr, “and when he was involved with local choirs, his children also became members of his choirs.”

He also drew the family into the development of his compositions and when he had finished a piece, they would all have to listen. “He was also a dedicated academic and when he did research, we all did research,” added Khumalo Jnr. His father was passionate about the history and culture of the Zulu nation which explains his compositions UShaka KaSenzangakhona (described as a musical epic) and the opera Princess Magogo for example. “He had one mission and that was to compose music for the people to sing and enjoy,” he concluded.

His sister on the other hand gave insight into their childhood and a family that was always surrounded by music. “We could all play instruments and music was a part of our lives from a very early age,” she explained. Choirs, she believes is where he honed his music skills.

Prof Khumalo
Professor James Steven Mzilikazi Khumalo

“He was a teacher,” says Themba Madlopha who first encountered Prof Khumalo in a lecturer/student capacity but is now a choir master himself. He threw light on how the professor was influenced by the times, for example, his resentment of the treatment of political prisoners. “He was not at home with injustices, but he was such a gentleman, he hid it under a religious cloak. But, he found ways of including the truths in his work like a lament of the black people in apartheid chains,” he noted.

He also explained that Prof Khumalo was deeply obsessed with folk music traditions and he found a way to marry the melodic directions to the Zulu tones. “He was the most prolific composer of our time,” he said. And he agrees to all the above says poet Themba Msimang, the man who was brought on board by Khumalo as his lyricist. First on the list was Shaka which was intended as a rite of reconciliation not only for the Zulu nation (and those who betrayed Shaka) but also for South Africa as a nation. This was followed by Princess Magogo which originated as a commission from Opera Africa as the first African opera and yet, the man responsible for the lyrics had no experience of musicals or opera.

He was puzzled why he was selected but it was because of his poetry, his own love and understanding of the Zulu nation and his writing as a poet. And probably, because he wasn’t steeped in opera, he would approach it with a fresh eye which contributed a unique quality together with Khumalo’s African-inspired tone. Both of these are now considered landmark productions.

As the chairman of the committee responsible for our current national anthem, he is part of the public discourse yet his name, accomplishments and compositions should be a living part of our heritage.

In conclusion André and her collaborators are planning to publish a collection of essays that include papers that were delivered and round out the publication with other essays to provide a strong introduction to Khumalo’s work and materials for people to learn more about him and include him on the syllabi in music classrooms.

“I strongly believe that the arts and culture of a nation are very important in having that nation develop and thrive. I hope this work that brings Khumalo’s accomplishment into a brighter spotlight will also help open up other opportunities for other composers and artists. South Africa has a rich heritage in music—both in traditional and folk music, as well as the syncretic musical traditions that reveal rich intersections with the West and music from other cultures. Khumalo’s choral and operatic works are central to this legacy,” she concludes.

*The symposium was made possible through funding from an African Heritage Seed Grant from the University of Michigan and from the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology, Unisa.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bravely Functioning Gauteng Opera Needs Funding to Exist and Caring Friends to Flourish and Survive

Gauteng Opera 2
The hardworking and glorious Gauteng Opera

DIANE DE BEER

 

Money or more pertinently funding is the asset that drives Gauteng Opera and helps them not only to function but to exist.

Following a closure scare in March this year due to lack of funds, Classic 1027 came on board with support and raised R400 000 for the company which allowed them to go ahead with the students who study at the Academy as well as holding on to the interns in the company for the time being.

It is a constant struggle though but quite a few measures have been taken to help financially in the future.

The company created by Neels Hansen and Mimi Coertse in 1999 with the aim of finding and training young talent unable to afford formal education, has achieved much but with their constant struggle for funding and tighter financial constraints all round, they have had to be even more proactive than usual.

Two newfound friends, experienced marketing experts, Collett Dawson and Claire Pacariz, both offered their many years of operating skills recently to put Gauteng Opera on a much more visible stage.

Already an all-round performing arts and entertainment company focusing on opera related productions, concerts and events, their scaling down earlier this year has turned them into a streamlined outfit but that also means fewer hands doing even more work.

Arnold Cloete - Chief Executive Officer Gauteng Opera
Arnold Cloete – Chief Executive Officer Gauteng Opera

This has never been a problem for founding member and CEO Arnold Cloete and his new artistic director Phenye Modiane with their slogan “Opera for Everyone”, encouraging and enthusing them to expose opera to varied audiences with different vocal offerings. This was also what these two women wanted to showcase a few weekends ago.

In the process they also introduced prospective clients to the facilities of the company’s recently established theatre and their base – Tin Town Theatre in Ferreirasdorp, that offers many possibilities as well as rehearsal facilities for everyone from dance companies to theatre.

The company is driven by excellence in vocal performance and theatre and pride themselves in being one of the foremost nurturers of quality vocal performance and theatre practitioners.

The reason their mandates are as broad as possible is to maintain a company at all, notes Cloete. In today’s world, opera companies in South Africa are fast disappearing and the artists of Gauteng Opera have no choice but to challenge the conventions of art while not being confined to the traditional operatic repertoire.

Performance is their endgame but for Gauteng Opera education and the development of South African singers is vital.  Through sponsorships and support for the Academy, they train young talented singers without the financial support to study at accredited tertiary institutions and provide opportunities to develop their talent and performance experience during a three-year internship.

These trainees get tutoring in the various music disciplines such as singing technique, music theory, history of music, repertoire development and piano, the operatic languages, acting and movement. They form part of the Gauteng Opera chorus and perform regularly with the professional singers.

Phenye Modiane - Artistic Director Gauteng Opera
Phenye Modiane – Artistic Director Gauteng Opera

Gauteng Opera artists have performed throughout South Africa in various concerts, events and productions with the best orchestras South Africa has to offer. They are also involved in Community work with schools and charities.

Notable concert performances include Gauteng Opera’s One Voice: An African Celebration, annual Christmas Concerts and Forté in Concert. Opera productions include Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in 2015, three short South African operas, performed under the banner, Cula Mzansi in 2015 and 2016, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in 2016 and recently, Puccini’s La Bohème at the Joburg Theatre and Durban Playhouse.

To find and nurture resources to ensure their future, they have come up with a few options: The Friends of Gauteng Opera initiative permits individual patrons and businesses to support the company through monthly donations. Proceeds help Gauteng Opera meet monthly operational costs.

There’s also a sponsorship scheme for individual artists. A supporter builds a personal relationship with the adopted singer and contributes to their operational sustainability by meeting a portion of the artist’s monthly salary. The name of the adopter features in brackets behind the artist’s name in all event programmes and the artist undertakes to perform at an event of the sponsor’s choice, accompanied by a Gauteng Opera pianist. The supporter receives invitations to all Gauteng Opera productions during the sponsoring year.

The Build Gauteng Opera scheme helps to meet or minimize maintenance expenses. Contributors (private and corporate) are encouraged to donate building materials, equipment, kitchen appliances, fabric for theatrical costumes and other items. Facility enhancement also enables them to increase the desirability of the space as a venue for launches, presentations and other events which then develops an income stream by hiring out the Tin Town Theatre when the space is not required by Gauteng Opera.

Any of these will help to save one of South Africa’s leading entertainment and performing arts companies. Simply call Gauteng Opera on 011 067 8001 or make contact at arnold@gautengopera.org / artistic@gautengopera.org.

If you want to support them by attending their concerts, here are the next couple of events:

  • Saturday, 29 September at 1pm; Gauteng Opera City Walk with Flying Cows of Jozie Concert at The Market Shed @ 1Fox – Concert – free entrance.

Bookings for the city walk: Josine Overdevest – josine@flyingcowsofjozi.co.za

  • Saturday, 06 October at 3 and 8pm; The Merrow Down Estate Concerts at the Merry Down Country Club, Magaliesig, R150 per person

Bookings: Vera Harvey – event@icon.co.za / 083 461 0857

  • Saturday, 13 October at 7pm;

Rotary and CCJ Fundraising Event for GO, Country Club Johannesburg, Woodmead, R250 per person, include substantial snacks – cash bar;

Bookings: Denise Cruickshank deni@global.co.za / 011 784 0617 / 083 448 4844

  • Wednesday, 17 October at 7pm, La Trinita Dinner Concert at Kyalami Centre, R200 per person, a la carte menu;

Bookings: latrinita@mweb.co.za / 011 466 7949

  • Sunday, 21 October at 3pm, 4th Sunday Afternoon Concert at Tin Town Theatre, Ferreirasdorp, R150 per person

Bookings: Arnold Cloete – arnold@gautengopera.org / 011 067 8001

Check under season banner for further concerts at http://www.gautengopera.org.

Gauteng Opera 1

Brilliantly Bold Color Purple Soars Beautifully a Second Time Round

Pictures: @enroCpics 

Sisters Celie and Nettie
Sisters Celie (right) and Nettie at opposite sides of the world on different continents.

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

THE COLOR PURPLE

DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

CAST: Didintle Khunou (Celie), Lelo Ramasimong (Shug Avery), Aubrey Poo (Mister), Neo Motaung (Sofia), Sebe Leotlela (Nettie), Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri (Harpo) and the rest of the 20-strong ensemble

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Bernard Jay

PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Sarah Roberts

LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Manim

SOUND DESIGNER: Richard Smith

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (with an orchestra of 8)

CHOREOGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi

VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until September 2

Celie and the women in celebration
Celie and the women in celebration

It’s rare in this country that big musicals like this one get a second season but so popular was The Color Purple first time round, it has returned with huge fanfare in Woman’s Month. And that’s a good thing.

This is quite a show and with one major change, Lelo Ramasimong as the sassy Shug Avery, (previously one of a trio of church ladies who has been replaced by Masego Mothibakgomo, who slips seamlessly into this powerful threesome) the rest of the cast has been given the chance to finetune their performances and even though, first time round, it was already spectacular, Khunou as Celie, for example, has grown magnificently in what was the first time round, a debut performance in such a huge and iconic role.

It feels as if she has slipped into Celie’s shoes more comfortably than then with a confidence that allows her to soar and in the quieter songs, it’s as if she trusts the moment and just is who she should be.

But so are the rest of the cast, from the much more experienced Poo who revels in his portrayal of Mister because of the arc he travels in every show as the one who probably has the most extreme turnaround – from the abuser to one who finally sees the value of the one he never cherished and lost.

Seeing a musical again that the first time round had so much impact is always a time to reflect and reassess but if anything, the effect is even more dramatic because this time round, there are no surprises, it’s just the show and the performers.

One must remember the genre and how much it allows. The story is grave and as much of its time as it is of now. That’s the horror, that so little has changed for women, the lack of power they often have over their own lives and the abuse they face on a daily basis. It sounds as familiar now as it did then and the murmuring and cheering from the audience affirms that. They know and understand these women and their circumstances and are also rooting for change.

Aubrey Poo as Mister
Mister (Aubrey Poo), Shug Avery (Lelo Ramasimon) and her beau and Celie (Didintle Khunou)

Celie is a woman who as a child is abused by her father who rapes her resulting in two children who he gives away. She is then passed on to another abusive man who does with her as he pleases while she cares for his children and his home with no say in the matter. It’s heavy stuff and without delving too deeply, it is the performances and the songs that tell as much of this tragic story as possible. The emotions run high and while abuse tops the list, many other issues are dealt with in this story of redemption.

The music is quite extraordinary and there are many showstoppers, some because of their emotional message like Celie’s Somebody Gonna Love You, Sofia and the women’s Hell, No and Celie’s I’m Here with the titles almost the only explanation necessary but then there’s also Celie and the women’s triumphant Miss Celie’s Pants and the show stopping Any Little Thing by Sofia (Motaung) and Harpo (Mahaka-Phiri).

Shug Avery and her admirers
Shug Avery (Lelo Ramasimong) and her admirers

Ramasimong brings the house down and her sexy Shug to life with her show number and Nettie (Leotlela) lets the tears roll with African Homeland.

It’s a musical where all the elements hold together starting with an imaginative set that is enhanced by luminous lighting while Honeyman has picked and honed her performers – each one of them – to perfection, to tell a story both powerful and poignant.

Once and for all, this glorious cast has made their point. It is all about storytelling. You have to engage, listen to the lyrics and allow the performers to come alive with their emotions in full flow. Like the first time round, it’s high notes and low in song and understanding, and the story is delivered with heaps of humanity first trampled on and then celebrated.

That’s life as we know it but sometimes deny and this is yet another way we can grapple with it and come to grips with the horror of abuse.

And it sounded as if the row of Singaporeans behind me with Bernard Jay in tow, were certainly planning to make this an extended traveling season. This is talent we want to export.

Artists Karin Hougaard and Jaconell Mouton Work with Artistic Abandon

 

DIANE DE BEER

Karin Hougaard Pieter J Rosseau
Jaconell Mouton and Karin Hougaard. Picture: Pieter J Rosseau

GREPE (Selections)

ARTISTS: Karin Hougaard (performer, singer, composer and lyricist), Jaconell Mouton (keyboard and piano player)

DIRECTOR: Mari Borstlap

VENUE: Atterbury Theatre at Lynnwood Bridge

DATE: May 27

 

I wasn’t really thinking of writing anything about the show simply because it was a one-off performance and apart from the seasons previously performed at the recent Woordfees and Klein Karoo Arts Festival, this was the last one to be showcased locally.

But, Karin Hougaard is such an exceptional performer, it felt wrong to ignore this production which was such a joy to experience while witnessing the exuberant evolution of a true artist.

The genre or niche – Afrikaans music – she performs in has been restrictive for many because like in so many art forms, once the public latches onto your persona, they’re not too happy if you change. But what happens to an artist with those kinds of restrictions? It’s almost like a kind of self-censorship kicks into action and a performer’s vision becomes stagnant after a while. That’s one example.

Karin Hougaard1
Karin Hougaard. Picture: Hans Mooren

Being an artist even in today’s challenging economical landscape is all about taking risks and that is what Hougaard exemplifies and why she is so exciting to watch. It’s not an easy thing and once you have hit the marks, it is often more comfortable just to stick to what you – and they – know. But not for Hougaard, fortunately. And she benefits as an artist while also nourishing  the longevity of her career because one must see growth at some point. Even the most ardent fan needs some kind of movement.

She’s a dramatic artist, as much an actor as a singer, so what she gives you with each song, is an interpretation with her whole body and soul. It’s overwhelming and quite marvelous to witness.

It’s also extraordinary to experience someone who seems so comfortable in her own skin that it’s almost easy for her to share her life and where she’s at in this present time. The distance – with her move to the US a few years back – might also give her the space to make these brave choices. But then she’s always been an artist who takes those leaps of faith.

Karin Hougaard - Sonskyn Fotografie
Karin Hougaard: Sonskyn Fotografie

It is where she finds herself now, the issues she grapples with, the songs including the much loved but well-worn Me Quitte Pas, Vlakkeland and Padam which she makes imaginatively

her own, but also her own compositions and poetry, in writing and in song, that cover so much in so many different genres.

With a performance that’s as compelling as it is compulsive, she has cleverly chosen Jaconell Mouton as her accompanist, someone who stands as her equal and adds further to the depth of the performance. The way they interlink and keep the narrative flowing without missing a beat – on piano or in song. The way the music is varied, beats different rhythms, tells stories as intimate or as global as the topic demands, all of that turns this into a show all about emotions.Karin-Hougaard-Grepe-7-1

It is sad that even though the language is used magnificently, it also prohibits many from understanding and thus attending. She is an artist that would appeal far more widely if people only knew.

And if all this sounds just too much, it is the simplicity of the presentation yet done with so much artistic integrity that it so captures the imagination and transports you to so many different worlds, spaces and places. With backdrop and multimedia to enhance the imagination, our barefoot diva is fully present with her audience as she steps into each song, each poetic conversation, never going off script and yet, establishing a narrative that is heartfelt and music that embraces completely.

It was a magnificent encounter.

Au revoir.

 

 

 

Taking a Walk on the Wild side in Avenue Q with a Cast and Director with Swing

Pictures: Christiaan Kotze

Avenue Kate Monster and Princeton
Kate Monster (Ashleigh Harvey) and Princeton (Ryan Flynn) get up close and personal.

DIANE DE BEER

 

AVENUE Q

DIRECTOR:  Timothy le Roux

CAST: Ashleigh Harvey, Ryann Flynn, Daniel Geddes, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, grant Towers, Rebecca Hartle, Nieke Lombard, Graeme Wicks, Songezo Khumalo

PUPPET AND SCENIC DESIGN: Kosie Smit

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Dawid Boverhoff

VENUE: Pieter Toerien’s Main Theatre at Montecasino

DATES: Until July 15

 

Especially in musical theatre where so much of what we see is stuff we’re familiar with, Avenue Q comes like sneaky fresh breeze – cool as a cucumber.

It’s the production – a musical play of puppets steered by a sassy group of actors – that keeps this one turning on a dime as they tell a story of disillusionment as they leave their comfy enclaves of learning to find their way in the world.

It’s wise as the ages but with a youthful exuberance which is firmly stamped into every slinky move made and musical note warbled as they push a story as cynical as they come. And yet, at the heart, it’s all marshmallow soft as the boy and girl walk off into the sunset.

Avenue Q Gang
The Avenue Q gang in full swing.

Of course, a few things are turned on their head, as this one is wont to do. The sex and the talk (about sex, race and gender mostly, but also about finding a purpose) are more raucous and slurpy as the puppets find their inner soul, and the talent pops all the time which it needs to do in a show where singing a song is taken to new levels – and that’s part of the fun.

It’s a show that asks you to engage from the start and once you’ve taken that leap, it’s a treasure trove on many diverse levels.

It starts with the originality, which keeps it current because of the themes but also because of the way it is presented. It’s about the puppets and the way they look and perform with the help of a cast who have found hidden skills and turn every performance into so much more than just a sing-and-dance number.

Even though they make the puppets come alive, the actors never disappear and what they achieve is part of the magic of the show. The audience is engaged in a way that adds to the excitement and exuberance.

You can sit back and smile your way through this one and wallow in the wonder of local talent, beginning with Timothy le Roux, who has put together a show that is razor sharp in the tiniest detail. And it has to be precisely that, or it wouldn’t work. If you can’t buy into the premise, you will lose much of the magic but when you do, it’s a wild and joyous ride. That’s what Le Roux has skilfully managed in near-miraculous fashion.

Avenue Geddes as Nicky
Two actors (Nieke Lombard and Daniel Geddes) manipulate Nicky the Slacker.

But then there are the puppet masters and that’s exactly what they are. They don’t dominate their puppet, yet they become part of the experience in a way that adds depth and delight to every character. It’s incredibly charming to witness and part of the marvel is the way each one on stage pulls it off and adds layer upon layer to the show.

Starting with the main guy and his gal or it could be the other way round – it’s absolutely that kind of show. Everyone is embraced whether you’re a slut or a Republican senator, there’s place for you on Avenue Q, a neighbourhood where the other becomes just another of this tightly-knit community of oddballs.

Avenue Ashleigh as Lucy
Princeton (Ryan Flynn) and Lucy the slut (Ashleigh Harvey) with Trekkie Monster (Daniel Geddes) behind.

But back to the gal (Harvey) and her guy (Flynn). Harvey has done her musical rounds and yet, it’s as if this one fits her like it was written for her. Her performance is rich in emotion, and with her singing simply extraordinary. Her main character, Kate Monster, steps aside when she’s slutty Lucy, but sometimes you have both characters on stage and that simply defies description, the deftness so delicious. She simply soars into the stratosphere with this one.

Avenue Ryan Flynn as Rod
Rod The Republican Senator (Ryan Flynn).

And that goes for Flynn too, who is starring in his biggest musical role to date and simply embraces every challenge. Also flicking between Princeton, the main guy on the lookout for purpose and a recent college graduate, and Rod the Republican senator, who is battling his rigidity, Flynn simply grabs hold of each one’s personality – sometimes at the same time.

It’s exceptional stuff and part of the hilarity of watching this one is revelling in the star power that emerges. The rest of the cast, each and everyone – from the gruff Trekkie Monster (Geddes) to Coleman, desperate to be the comeback kid (Mahaka-Phiri) – they all have to deliver or it just won’t have the zing.

It’s the tiniest gem this one but if you are blessed enough to catch the shine, it brings a new musical happiness that celebrates being different – not just as people but also in performance.

That’s rare in musical speak!

With Laurinda Hofmeyr At The Helm, Afrique Mon Désir Makes The Right Sounds

Laurinda ensembleAfrique Mon Désir, both an album and a live show to be presented at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival following their amazing debut in Stellenbosch at the Woordfees, is the culmination of many different desires but more than that, the right people at the right time for performer/composer Laurinda Hofmeyr to stretch herself and broaden her scope. She talks to DIANE DE BEER about this latest venture, which can be seen at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in the next few days but watch out for further sightings as well as a trip to France:

It began with a meeting with Nico McLachlan of the Cape Town Music Academy who sponsored the project and was the initial driver. He introduced her to the then director of the Alliance in Cape Town, Christian Pizafy, who organised a few concerts at the Alliance through 2015 and 2016.

Hofmeyr’s magic has always been setting Afrikaans poetry to music with strong African rhythms inherent in the music. “The crowd at the Alliance was very multicultural and quite a few French people also attended. So I made a point of throwing in a sentence or two in French into the English presentation (where I sang Afrikaans songs). I liked the context; it was as if I heard the Afrikaans poems as pearls when I sang to a multicultural audience.”

It was also McLachlan that suggested she branch out with the same art but in a new direction. “He suggested I take French poetry from Africa (actually English was initially also included in the mix) and put it to music. I was hesitant because I thought Afrikaans was the only language where every word had a special colour and texture for me.

“I think the longing poems, the French that I could speak as well as the French African people far from their homes in Cape Town, were probably the elements that ignited the project,” she explains.

The thing that finally convinced her was that McLachlan said the newly founded Cape Town Music Academy would sponsor her and fund the new CD, also titled Afrique Mon Désir.

This was a new world for this lone musician, who in the past had to battle her way through the artistic world just to get herself heard. She has always had her followers (myself included), but not the audience that her extraordinary work deserved. While she is a niche performer, it was as if her audience had not yet found her – and perhaps the language was limiting.

Afrique1

Another theme in her life has been French, as both school and University French had opened doors in her head and in real life. “Important people in my life also had a French African connection (like Breyten Breytenbach). The only connection to French I had for a long time though, was speaking to the car guards, all people longing for home.”

The fact that McLachlan was aware of French-speaking people far from home (maybe through the Alliance) made him suggest that they bring musicians from French-speaking countries into the project. Here Pizafy from the Alliance assisted in a huge way. “He listened to over 70 West African musicians and chose 10 for a workshop in December 2016. From these, we chose the three fantastic singers and the one guitarist that forms part of the Afrique mon Désir Ensemble,” she says.

During the workshop Hofmeyr realised that the theme of ‘world music’ being an inspiration for her, was also taken to new heights with this project. Another musician, Régis Gizavo (a Madagascan accordion player), was also brought on board, someone she describes as one of the most amazing musos she has ever met. “He took just one take with most of the songs and that is without even listening once to a song before he started playing along.” (Sadly, he died unexpectedly only a few weeks after the recording.) “I feel very blessed to have shared some of his last musical moments on this planet.”

The poetry was selected from countries like Madagascar, Senegal, Mauritania and Chad and she was assisted by Catherine du Toit, head of foreign languages at the University of Stellenbosch, suggested by Breytenbach. “All French departments at different SA universities were busy with a project where a famous poet from Madagascar was translated into Afrikaans and English. That was the first poet that Catherine introduced me to. With each poet, she chose a few poems herself that she thought would be workable; not too long, and then I translated every word for myself with a French dictionary.

“Before actually trying to set the poem to music, I made sure that the words had a colour and texture for me and that I was convinced of my interpretation. Only then did I choose a poem or two from a specific poet.

“I also did some research of the countries where the poets were born (most live in non-African countries now). I tried to listen and read about different musical traditions and how the musical elements are used in those traditions which I used as inspiration. A good example is Mon pays and the suggestion of a Modus that I heard in Mauritanian music. I tried to let my picture of how the landscape would look, where the poet grew up, correspond with the feel of the music.”

Combining these new French-African poems with some of her Afrikaans poems already set to music, her selections were determined by those that had specific themes of longing and of course, Africa.

“Working with the four musicians made me aware of all the borders drawn between people through language, a different culture but also through socio-economic status. The little bit that I have learned about their lives here in South Africa as well as their excellent musical ability has been an eye opener.” As always, her musical collaboration when working on the poems was genius guitarist and composer in his own right Schalk Joubert. “Where I explored the poems, Schalk did a lot of the crossover/fusion work. I explained the theme of a poem and then he often suggested a ‘chorus’ and the singers would come up with words that would fit.”

Anyone who can catch any of these concerts should try to do so but there’s also the album which might not be live, but captures some of the magical coming together on the continent from musicians who all feel the heartbeat.