South African Stories

The Star Tonight, September 9 2004
South African Stories

By: Charles De Olim

To know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been.

Unfortunately, our music industry has chosen to ignore this fact over the years. The role of technology in the production process, combined with what appears to be the relentless pursuit of the next “hot trend”, has all but made the school of traditional instrumentation a forgotten one.

Despite this, there is a resurgence of interest in ancient instruments (those which date back to pre-colonial days) and these are currently bucking the trend.
The combined vision of Drum Cafe’s Warren Lieberman, Wendeen Lieberman, Anthony Caplan and George Mxadana (director of Imilonji Kantu Choral Society) has resulted in the creation of the Traditional African Orchestra, a project that was initiated last year.

“There’s a feeling in the country for a move back to learning indigenous music. It’s our way of preserving our culture,” explained Caplan, a composer and musical director at the Drum Cafe.

Still very much in the formative period of the composition process, the orchestra last appeared in two successful performances with the Imilonji Choral Society. During the recent run of drumstruck at the Market Theatre.

However, the project is currently on hold as the proposals for funding from government and other investors are finalised.

But Caplan does not foresee the need for future funding once the Traditional African Orchestra has been established.

“Our long-term vision is for the venture to be able to sustain itself. There’s no reason why the orchestra cannot join a Western orchestra and tour internationally. Furthermore the training these musicians receive will enable them to work for different orchestras.” A large part of this revival in the indigenous music of black Africa would not have been possible without some historical record of the instruments. It was through Hugh Tracey’s recordings in the 1940’s that Caplan was enabled to decipher some of these sounds. Tracey’s recordings were made possible by the establishment of The International Laboratory of African Music (ILAM), now based in Grahamstown and run by his son Jason.

Caplan is also currently helping in the research of the book, written by Laurie Levine, detailing the history of southern Africa’s indigenous instruments.

An indigenous African Orchestra is not a new phenomenon. A Pan African Orchestra exists in Ghana while larger ensembles are found in Arabic Africa. But in terms of southern African indigenous music, the composition for these instruments as an orchestra is unchartered territory.

Some of the instruments include the uhadi, horns and the botsorwane.

The only changes made to the uhadi and the botsorwane is the installation of a tuning pen so that they can be played in an ensemble.

Caplan believes that in order for further composition to take place, the most pressing issue would be to establish a common notation program in southern Africa to ensure a uniform body of composition work is established.

For more information, contact the Drum Cafe in Newtown on 011-834-4464