Woza Ngena

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So in less than I week I’ll be flying back to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to launch Shine Like A Rainbow, the album I’ve produced with Sunduza, Jeys Marabini, Albert Nyathi, Willis Wataffi, Desire Moyoxide, Otis Ngwabi and others in tribute to my wonderful and much missed partner Simon Rainbow Dr. Mahlaba Banda, otherwise known as Sam, and to mark the second anniversary of his passing with the unveiling of a gravestone. I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but it’s true.

The concert will take place on Saturday 20th December in the open air theatre in Pumula, which is the home of the Amasiko Lemvelo community project and the place where Sunduza regularly rehearse. Prior to that we have other gigs, notably at the Ibumba International Festival in Stanley Square, and of course plenty of rehearsals.

The clip above shows us rehearsing Woza Ngena, one of the original Sunduza songs which Simon adapted from a traditional song exhorting children to honour their traditional games. Our version includes children both from the Sunduza family and from the neighbourhood where Simon lived. I wanted to include games that they might play – there is a reference to a clapping game, a rhyme to pick teams, and to hopscotch, as well as a list of the children’s names – ending with a boy who really is called Marvellous! We list the names of Simon’s five children too, and his little granddaughter Ashley, and include my own son and three granddaughters whom Simon never met but always wanted to hear about. On the video you can see Charlie at the front conducting the children, and his brother Tonny behind another camera.

It’s interesting to watch this again, in the little shelter within the theatre – if we used this space rather than the stage it was because either it was too hot or it was raining – our clothes suggest the latter. We spent hours on this song before arriving at the version for the recording, and will no doubt spend many more to ensure that the children are comfortable on stage. Mind you, if you watch to the end you will notice that it wasn’t the children who made a mistake on this occasion!

Charlie has started a WhatsApp group for people connected with the concert and it’s very touching from this end to see the excitement and willingness to help with the organisation. There is an almost tangible buzz in the air.

Meanwhile, I’m mostly wondering if I’ll ever be ready in time…

Sharing the Music, Spreading the Word

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Musicport Festival workshop flyer

Musicport Festival workshop flyer

When my friend Sophy and I were working on the bid for Arts Council England funding for my project the funders were keen to know how audiences in this country would benefit. This was not the most straightforward question to answer – there are perhaps two of the thirteen songs on the album that I can perform on my own, and Sunduza are not able to come over just yet – although we are hoping that they will some time in the not too distant future. But the material does adapt well to workshop settings and as I have mentioned before in my blogs a great many children have taken part in workshops based on some of the most accessible songs. Over this year I have also introduced some of the songs to my choirs – The Quirky Choir, Sheffield Socialist Choir and most recently Retford Community Singers – and they have really made the songs their own.

Simon was himself an inspirational workshop facilitator and the first time I met him, in 1999, I was deeply impressed that he could engage with so many different ages and abilities. He and Sunduza did a week’s residency at The Point, where I work with darts, Doncaster Community Arts, and I remember watching him work with adults with learning disabilities, a young people’s dance group, a group of older people wanting to learn drumming, children and the Quirky Choir, and being so impressed with his easy manner and flexible working style.

With his manager Philip Weiss Simon set up a choir in Sheffield called SOSA-XA! – Sounds Of Southern Africa – passing on the leadership to his nephew Mandla Sibanda who worked with the choir for many years before his tragic death just months before Simon’s. I was privileged to work with this choir in a memorial concert for Simon and Mandla in March 2013 and will be returning to share the Shine Like A Rainbow songs with them in November with their current leader Richard Mahachi.

And next week I am excited to announce I will be travelling up to Whitby to do a workshop/presentation as part of the Musicport Festival. I’m lucky to have the assistance of four wonderful singers from Bulawayo group Siyaya who are just coming to the end of their tour here, including Mkhuxunque Sodoyi who features on the album as a member of Sunduza, and Ishmael Muvingi, a good friend of Simon’s.

So if you’re doing to be at the festival, please come along to the Royal Hotel Ballroom at noon on Sunday October 19th and sing with us!

Long time no see

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Shine Like A Rainbow CD

Shine Like A Rainbow CD

So the album arrived, way back in May after my last post. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction – of course I was pleased and proud of what is, I am assured, a beautiful piece of work, but the expected elation didn’t happen – rather the reverse, actually. I found myself plunged into a pit of inertia and indecisiveness over the best way to proceed with it, I became confused by conflicting advice, and apart from giving away a few copies to friends and family and a couple of boxes to Philip, Sunduza’s manager, it’s pretty much sat around in my dining room for four months. With no prospect of Sunduza coming here any time soon, I couldn’t see how I was going to promote it and I guess I experienced another phase of the grieving process.

Well, no more, this has to stop and I need to take it forward. I owe it to Simon’s memory, to Charlie, the other musicians who put so much energy into it, and ultimately myself.

So here I am again, taking a vow of seriousness and re-committing to the blog, the promotion of the music and to the project.

I haven’t exactly done nothing however. Over the summer two of my choirs created and performed their own versions of a song from the album – worth its own blog post so I won’t say any more here. I continued to deliver children’s workshops based on some of the songs –

workshop

All set up for a workshop with young people with learning disabilities at The Point in Doncaster

and I will continue this work into the autumn. Sheffield Socialist Choir are now learning Matata, intending once again to add our own words about a current “matata” (problem) – most likely on an environmental theme. Quirky Choir and Retford Community Singers will also learn some of the songs, and I am offering workshops to other choirs in the region. And I am very excited to be doing a workshop at this year’s Musicport Festival in Whitby on 19th October – even more so since some of my old friends in the performance group Siyaya, including Mkhux who also sings with Sunduza and is on the album, have offered to come and help me.

Philip went to Zimbabwe in August and took some CDs for Charlie and the others. They are now busy planning an album launch in Bulawayo featuring as many as possible of the musicians and also creating an exhibition of photos of Simon and of ourselves during the creation of the music last year.

So one of the few things I did manage to do was to book a flight for December – I am flying out again on the 5th for a couple of weeks – no doubt to another packed schedule of rehearsals and gigs, and for the second anniversary of Simon’s passing including the unveiling of a gravestone.

Early reactions from the few people who have heard the album so far have been extremely positive – I was worried that it would only appeal to those who knew Simon, but it seems to be touching others too and resonates particularly with those who have lost a loved one. I have had a kind offer from one such person to make a promotional video for the album, free of charge, which is lovely.

Still have a packed to do list including getting it on iTunes etc. but I finally feel as if things are moving again. I promise not to fall silent again!