SA composer makes history with writing Xhosa folklore songs for Harvard Glee Club

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SA composer makes history with writing Xhosa folklore songs for Harvard Glee Club
SA composer makes history with writing Xhosa folklore songs for Harvard Glee Club

Africa-PressSouth-Africa. Cape Town – A 47-year-old Khayelitsha-based composer has made history by being the first black South African to be commissioned by Harvard University to write folklore songs in IsiXhosa for its male Glee Club.

Bongani Magatyana from Site C said he was approached by the institution last year after he was introduced to the director of choral activities at the university, Andrew Clark, and later performed his composition Khaya Lami.

Magatyana said he owed his experience to the Siyaya Ensemble at JL Zwane Centre in Gugulethu, where he wrote songs about HIV/Aids in multiple genres in 2006.

He said that in 2013, Village Harmony, a choral organisation, invited him to conduct a workshop on one of his songs and later invited him to teach for its yearly programmes.

Magatyana, the original composer of the famous folklore song Nongqawuse, said this opportunity would allow him a chance to correct the mistakes that had been made with black South African choral music while exposing him to other institutions. With Harvard University being one of the most respected universities, he said this motivated him greatly.

“In all the countries I have travelled in I will always find a South African song book written and edited by composers who do not understand the language and the rhythm. I am one of the composers who still write choral songs sung in local competitions.

“Now my goal is to provide people around the world with the opportunity to learn music directly from culture-bearers, and to learn these songs on the culture-bearer’s terms, rather than from publications created by ’arrangers’ who have no real knowledge of the music (or cultures) off which they’re profiting,” he said.

Magatyana is currently teaching children through the newly formed Khayelitsha Children’s Choir.

“I want to expose our children to different styles of music because they are only taught one style of music. I want to expose them to jazz, performing with live bands and orchestras from a young age,” he said.

The Harvard Glee Club is expected to perform Magatyana’s new composition Inkomo next month, which he said was inspired by stories of stock theft in Ngcobo, Eastern Cape.

Mollie Stone from Village Harmony said that when she first met Magatyana in 2006 she was deeply impressed by the range of his work.

“He has been a treasured part of our organisation ever since. The more we promote and expand the visibility of the works of musicians like Magatyana, the more we can strive for justice and excellence in the choral world,” she said.

Clark said they were honoured to perform Magatyana’s music and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about black South African choral traditions, as well as the important topics that he explored in his compositions.

Cape Argus

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