13-15 April 2000
text and photos by Myrna Capp
One day late in 1999, Ephat Mujuru said to me, “You must come to London and perform improvisations with me at the Festival!” At that time I knew nothing about the Kusanganisa Festival, so Ephat explained to me what it was. I gave it some thought and went on to other things.What a surprise, then, and with some irony, to find that my paper abstract, sent off to Margaret Ling and Jane Tarr, was accepted, and was taking me to London, with Ephat not able to come after all. For me, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up, and fortunately, my University was able to find partial funding to help.
Here are a few observations based on some of the sessions I was able to attend:
Chiwoniso Maraire and Chirikure Chirikure’s session with school kids from the London area: The children learned how a Shona story is constructed by creating their own story, acting it out, and incorporating music. The kids had a good time in the creative process. Afterwards they talked about how the story entertained, and taught something important.
Chi encouraged the children to be imaginative, so their version of this Shona story included elements of twentieth century culture-ideas from movies, TV, and other things which are a part of their world. The more they got involved in the story the less inhibited they became. At times I thought Chi would have to reel them in, but she was patient, and would interrupt the story with a vocal chant, which she had introduced earlier, and was a part of the Shona story. This seemed to settle them down again so the story could continue.
Professor Jackie Guille, “Trading the arts for sustainable development”: Her session featured slides, and gave an overview of the status of artistic design in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. Development is not about projects, it’s about people — trust, quality of relationships, and so on. Too often the outcome of projects becomes the solutions to poorly identified problems.
Dr. Myrna Capp (and Joseph Matare), “Intercultural learning through the arts”: My part in this session consisted of telling my story about being invited by Ephat Mujuru to join him and improvise together (mbira and piano). The process convinced me that improvisation can be a useful way of bringing two musical cultures together. I learned about Shona music — especially the mbira, and Ephat learned about Western music — especially the piano. As a result of this collaboration, we became good friends, and are planning to produce a CD of the improvisations we taped in Harare. Samples of the taped improvisations were played during the session.
Joseph Matare discussed his dissertation study investigating the nature of musical intelligence across Western and non-Western Zimbabwe musical cultures using the context of improvisation. He assumes that musical improvisation is a process of problem solving requiring and exposing musical intelligence. I will be interested to hear about Joseph’s results and their implications after he has completed his study. Joseph and I had some very lively discussion about the nature of improvisation!
Chenjerai Shiri, Zimbabwe, Ivan Mcbeth, UK, and Reggie Wilson, USA, “Spirituality today in a global context”: What a variety of perspectives were given in this session! All the way from traditional Shona religious practices, to what it means to be a Druid, to hearing about an African American’s search for his religious/spiritual roots — taking him to the Spiritual Baptists, with their various views on what constitute a REAL baptism, and down to the Mississippi Delta! This was one of my favorite sessions. Reggie Wilson’s chanted “performance” was special!
Chris Timbe, “Cultural innovation as an engine for change”: I was fortunate to be able to work with Chris at the Zimbabwe College of Music recently. I found Chris to be a model of an excellent leader in his role of Co-Deputy Director of the Zimbabwe College of Music. In his session, Chris stressed that culture is dynamic — like a moving wheel. African music has been known to be functional, reflecting the daily lives of the people. Peoples’ aspirations, emotions, and needs are contained in African songs. Life was/is ‘slow.’ Chris views music as a mirror of culture and songs as “booklets” of culture — not written down.
Westerners have wanted to preserve traditional African music, but Africans are concerned with forging ahead and creating innovative music. With the colonial era, came the need to create new songs to reflect the new relationships and attitudes. When nationalism swept across Africa, songs, and instruments, as well, reflected this change. Songs of the liberation struggle were created to reflect the days’ need for independence. Now Africans want to study and understand African music.
Henry Stobart and Jon Banks, of Sirinu, “Musical exchanges between cultures”: The name Sirinu symbolizes the convergence of different myths, cultures and ideas across history through the inspiration of music. This session featured many instruments, and explored the influence of Renaissance Spanish music in the Andes. I learned that different instruments are played at different times of the year, and that music was a means of getting people into churches!
Rowena Whitehead, “Talking in Tune”: I’m not a singer, but Rowena had an unusual knack for getting everyone, even the most shy, to open up and produce amazing and unusual sounds vocally. We began this session by getting acquainted and doing some movement activities to break the ice and get rid of some of our inhibitions. Next, we responded to Rowena’s instructions or demonstrations by making appropriate vocal sounds. This proved to be a very open and uninhibited group, and by the time we had a break, one of our members, who was supposed to go to another session, was enjoying herself so much that she insisted on staying with our group, and became one of the more energetic and flamboyant vocal improvisers. We all had great fun, and were more creative than we thought possible. I came straight home and tried some of her ideas with my undergraduate students, and found them to be successful. I wish she lived in my area — I would spend more time with her!
Zango (mbiras, violins, double bass, hosho, percussion, accordion); This UK-based group shared a rehearsal and talked of their experiences in working together. What unusual, but appealing sounds! What I particularly noticed about this session was the openness of everyone to trying new combinations of instruments, and discussing what seemed to be working and what was not. One of the violinists had done some fiddling, and the double bass player was a jazz musician as well as a classical musician. These influences seemed to give the group more freedom and cohesiveness. For the Western trained musicians, musical experiences being free from reading Western notation, seemed to help the musicians rely on their ears more. I came away from this session with new ideas for collaboration. Also bought their CD and am enjoying it.
The Friday and Saturday night concerts brought everyone together for some very good Zimbabwean music and dance. There was a spirit of celebration of the mixing of ideas, the music and dance, and getting to know some talented and interesting people.
By Sunday afternoon those involved in planning and organizing Kusanganisa were more than ready to relax, share a very tasty African meal together, and discuss all that had transpired. It was good to have an opportunity to get better acquainted. I learned that Jane Tarr had grown up in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa-a surprise to me, since I had lived there for a short time in the late 80’s. But the nicest treat for me and for Chris Timbe (who had never been to the UK) was the quick driving tour through the heart of London-we saw Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, the BBC headquarters, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral-on a sunny afternoon! I was reminded of what a stunning city London is.
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Copyright © 2000 by Paul Novitski. All rights reserved.
Instrument Icons by Lindsey Heider.