ClassicsOnline Home » SOUTH-AFRICA Alexandra Youth Choir: South-African Choral
I travelled through Johannesburg, South Africa, twice on my trip to Mozambique where I produced three CDs for Naxos World (Mozambique Relief, Timbila ta Venancio and Eduardo Durao Timbila Ensemble). For these recordings, we used South African technology and gave the finishing touches in M2 Studios in Johannesburg. Having several performances during my visit also helped to get acquainted with the musical life of Johannesburg and its surroundings. Even before my trips, I had been aware of the fine singing tradition in South Africa. But it was there, on the spot, that the magnitude of their choral music opened up to me. South Africa has innumerable choirs with their repertoire ranging from African tradition to gospel, and even to European classical expression.
I wanted to find a choir close to old African tradition. Marius Coetzee, a former employee in the Finnish Embassy in Pretoria, helped me to find one. In the spring of 2000, I went to the rehearsal of Alexandra Youth Choral Choir for the first time. I quickly realised I had found what I had been looking for: the vitality and skill of the choir and their awareness of tradition made a strong impression on me. I sent a sound sample to Naxos World, where Andrew Sun and Dolores Canavan shared my opinion.
In March 2002, together with an old co-player of mine, Concord Nkabinde, I went to another rehearsal of the choir in Alexandra. We listened to numbers where we wanted to add a rhythm section. The choir had prepared themselves well for the coming recording. I heard new arrangements and compositions, among them was a gospel number in English called "I Want To See."
Usually AYCC performs a cappella. Dancing and stamping their feet while singing gives an extra kick to the performance. South African choirs often have a rhythm section and sometimes instrumental soloists. Concord helped to find a first-class rhythm section to accompany the choir. Like Concord (bass), they all - Barry van Zyl (drums), Valencia Ferlito (piano), George Phiri (guitar) and Tlale Makhene (percussions) - are musicians much in demand in Johannesburg. With George Phiri, there is some Malawi spice in the broth, and Tlale Makhene brings in Swazi ingredients. I invited Gloria Bosman, whose brilliant skills I was familiar with, to sing solos in a few songs. We can enjoy her beautiful interpretation in the hymn called "Nkosi Sikelela," for example. We made recordings on four days in the familiar M2 Studio, with Peter Pearlson working as the engineer.
ALEXANDRA YOUTH CHORAL CHOIR
In 1988 M.A. Mangaba founded a choir called Realogile School choir. In 1996 the name was changed to its present form, Alexandra Youth Choral Choir (AYCC), and the young Mike H. Mncube became its leader. There is a great need for youth work in Alexandra Township. One important goal is to keep young people off the streets and away from crime. AYCC offers a good alternative: the choir practises almost every evening. All the members of the choir work as volunteers for an organisation called Phutadichaba Care for the Aged.
Alexandra Youth Choral Choir has been successful in competitions: first in the National Youth Choir Contest in 1996, and second in adult choirs in 1997. The same year the choir visited Denmark with the help of DanChurchAid and participated in a televised concert in the Cathedral of Copenhagen. DanChurchAid and the Danish Radio helped the choir to realise their first recording the same year. AYCC has a wide variety of songs in several African languages, such as Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa. South Africa has eleven official languages: nine African languages, English and Afrikaans.
The first Europeans in the Cape Country were Portuguese seafarers in 1488. The area has seen many tumults with the coming of the Dutch (later called Boers), the English and the French Huguenots since the 17th century. We owe the refined viticulture of today to the French.
To the vast majority of black people, the 19th century meant many bitter wars. Their lands were taken, and the whole of social infrastructure collapsed. South African Native National Congress, founded in the early 20th century and later known as African National Congress (ANC), tried to bring justice to the black population. The activities of the organisation were forbidden in 1960. It took thirty years before ANC was legal again, and in 1999 ANC won almost two thirds of the seats in the first democratic parliamentary election of the country.
Before that victory, there were the long years of the apartheid era (1948 - 1990). Although the life of non-white people had been difficult before the apartheid, they had been allowed to visit public beaches, parks, public buildings and to use public transport. It had also been possible to have interracial marriages. The apartheid laws made all this criminal. The black population was confined to live in suburbs, townships.
Many of the best-known South African musicians, such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela or Abdullah Ibrahin, lived in exile during the apartheid. They have since been able to return to their home country. The members of ANC went underground; Nelson Mandela hid in the township of Alexandra. This gloomy period in South African history is documented in the MuseuMAfricA in Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela got a life sentence in 1963. His liberation on February 11, 1990, marked the final victory for ANC. Mandela, in person, was an absolute necessity for a peaceful change of power in South Africa. He was democratically elected President in 1994, and served in office until 1999.
The peaceful shifting of power enabled a huge change. South Africa is a country of many opportunities. Its infrastructure is well developed in comparison with many other African countries. Yet the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous. Visits to such neighbourhoods next to each other as the township of Alexandra and Sandton, a wealthy area inhabited by whites, only highlights this gap. Besides poverty, one of the biggest problems in todays South Africa is the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, very often connected with tuberculosis. Another big problem is unemployment in townships, and high crime in cities and townships.
The Rainbow Nation, as Archbishop Tutu has called his people, is undergoing great reforms. Despite difficulties, the atmosphere is filled with optimism. The cultural life of the country, with its music, has woken up from under the yoke of the apartheid.
The city of Johannesburg was born in the late 1800s when gold was found in the region. In the early 1900s the city was surrounded by densely populated suburbs. These townships were built for black workers. Alexandra Township - or Alex as the locals call it - is about a 20 minute drive from Johannesburg. Since its very beginning, Alexandra has been a fairly small area, with probably the highest population density in the whole of Africa. Originally it was designed for a population of 70.000; today the estimates vary between 200.000 and 750.000 inhabitants.
Despite their poverty, the inhabitants have a high self-esteem, and the feeling of togetherness is strong. In the past, the community as a whole boycotted rising bus fares by going on foot all the way to Johannesburg. They also boycotted the apartheid educational system by creating, with the help of ANC, cultural clubs to provide education for their children. This education was illegal, and could get them a prison sentence.
In search of a better life, immigrants from other African countries are flowing to Alexandra. They do not easily find jobs, and even surviving is hard. Housing conditions vary greatly; there are small brick buildings, but also shacks made of all possible materials. Sanitation and sewage systems are inadequate, and the power system does not guarantee electricity for all. Authorities are trying to improve the situation, and new public facilities are being built for the community.
The vast majority of the white population has never visited a township. Today, tourists are offered guided bus tours in Soweto, but Alexandra is still outside tourism. Townships are regarded as extremely hazardous places, and for a reason. Crime statistics make a rough piece of reading. I personally had a few loyal local guides all the time by my side. They were able to enlighten me with many facts, among other things about sangomas. Near a square where women were selling fruit and vegetables, with live chickens waiting for buyers, there was an advert for a sangoma. He is an educated spiritualist or diviner who has a contact with the strong spirits of ancestors. It is quite common to ask a sangoma for help in your troubles.
Music has always played an important role in Alexandra. Even in the 50s, when notorious gangs ruled the Dark City, there was a lot of music. The gangsters loved social life with parties and beautiful women. Of course, musicians were needed for these parties. The best-known of the musicians of that time was Zakes Nkosi, who played marabi jazz on his saxophone. Also Hugh Masekela, a famous jazz trumpetist, has his origins in Alexandra. Kwela music, which is played with Pennywhistles, was born in the streets of Alexandra in the 1940s. Tin whistles could also be used as alarms to warn of the approaching police! Today, as well as in those days, you can see people manifesting their religion in their dress too. The good tidings of the Christian faith also emerge in some of the songs of Alexandra Youth Choral Choir. Their religion is mixed with African tradition, and they have their own joyful and dancing way of propagating their holy gospel.
Mike Mncube arr by Eero Koivistoinen (Zulu)
Uyelele uyamemeza Zulu
uyame me uJes entabeni xio (x10)
wesith inangubo uyamemeza
Jesus is calling from the mountains.
2. WENA MALINDI UNNGAWAMI
Trad Zulu song arr by Mike Mncube
Lindiwe Lindiwe wam
This is about a man who is in love with
Lindiwe who drives him crazy.
3. KUNOTHIXO OMKHULU
Trad Xhosa song arr by Mike Mncube
osezulwini nguyena (x5)
Ahomm Homma (x5)
This song talks about the almighty God
whom we as the people living on earth
must praise and adore.
4. WANDIBIZA UMNGOMA
Trad arr by Khulu Shabalala
Wathi ndiphethinqave (x2)
During the primitive times our grandparents
used to have traditional smokes.
5. BABA BAXOLELE
Trad arr by Sizwe
Baba baxolele (x3)
A wise man works for his household
in a mine in Thekwini.
6. VALANI EZONGCANGO
Valan ezongcongo (x4)
The well-known choir has now
entered one of the competitions. We
now urge the audience to listen very
carefully to our music.
7. SHAPA KWASA KWASA
Trad arr by Mike Mncube
Lets have an African renaissance,
lets be one and make one dance.
8. IPHI IMBIZA NAMHLANJE
Trad Zulu song arr by Precious
alaphe Alex youth
siyayi shayi Thobela
siyayi shayi kwasa
siyayi shayi Dibalma
9. ENE ELI NTALE
Trad Sotho song arr by Mike Mncube
Ene eli ntale waruna (x5)
otla sala lemong
Ene eli ntate waruna
Lapeng le kene kesathwayela
ketlwayetse ngwnna lapalena
A father is a source of comfort in the family.
Redibini rona rabina (x5)
redibini rona rabina
Trad Sotho song arr by Eero Koivistoinen
Kemokete rea ketika (x5)
kemokete rea ketika
Hmm hmm rea ketika
In one of the Sotho tribes they rejoice and dance when they perform their customs.
Traditional song for greeting.
13. SAKA BAND
E bari kwasa (x2)
E bari saka (x2)
E bari tsasa (x2)
Eyo tsokotse (x10)
All Africans come and lets have a dance.
14. LONA BONTATE
Trad Sotho dance arr by Mike Mncube
Lona bontate (x5)
Rere mayo kemoya (x3)
As people of the South, we must
not forget our cultures.
15. INTOMBI IKHAHLELU SAKAZANGE
Mike Mncube arr by C. Nkabinde (Zulu)
Intom ikhahlel usakazana (x20)
Intombi khalel usakazana
It is so nice to look at the cultural
dance of another tribe.
16. NANSI LENTOMBI
Trad Zulu dance arr by Mike Mncube
Nansi lentomb engaqomi
We must not forget our cultures.
17. AYO AYO
Traditional song from Angola.
18. I WANT TO SEE
Amos Mokoka arr by Mike Mncube
I want to see
I want to the angels (x5)
I am a sinner oh yes I am
Ive got to be humble (x2)
You are my Jesus
Read my message which is written in my heart. Oh Lord please never let me go.
Mavis Gabela (Zulu)
Amaswid amantomba zane
Asidlenilema siyosebenzenyi Mali
20. NKOSI SIKELELA
Enoch Sontonga (Zulu and Sotho)
Nkosi sikelel iAfrika
Thina usapho lwayo
Morena boloka sechaba
sa heso o fedise
dintwa la matswenyeho
God bless Africa,
let its banner be raised;
hear our prayers and bless us
Descend, O Spirit, descend,
O Spirit, descend
O Holy Spirit.
"Nkosi Sikelela" is a hymn composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1897. Its first verse, with "Die Stem van Suid Africa," is the official national anthem of South Africa. This is also the national
anthem of some other African countries such
as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. It was
forbidden in the apartheid times.
Gloria Bosman - solo vocal 3, 10, 20
Eero Koivistoinen - tenor and soprano sax 1, 7, 11
George Phiri - Guitar 1, 7, 13, 11, 15
Valencia Ferlito - Piano 1, 7, 13, 15
Concord Nkabinde - Bass Guitar 1, 7, 13, 11, 15
Barry van Zyl - Drums 1, 7, 13, 15
Tlale Makhene - Percussion 19, 1, 7, 5, 13, 11, 15
Alexandra Youth Choral Choir
Address : 61-17 Avenue, Alexandra 2090
P.O.Box 288, Alexandra 2014,
Johannesburg, South Africa
fax +27 11 4406798
Produced by Eero Koivistoinen, EK-Production Oy Recorded and mixed at M2 Studios, Radiopark, SABC by Peter Pearlson. 12 -19. 03 2002. Mastered by Ronnie Thomas at Mastermix, Nashville, Tennessee. Executive Producer Dolores Canavan.
Thanks for Marius Coetzee, Timo Suominen
of Optiroc, Kirsti and Raimo Lintonen, Maarit Laitinen, Anja Leiponen, Embassy of Finland
in Pretoria, Peter Pearlson, Concord Nkabinde, Gloria Bosman, Peter Jaquire, Deon Maas,
Kevin Stuart, Andrew Sun, Dolores Canavan,
Jan Vaaka, Marjut Koivistoinen, Kristiina Lehto, Jukka Vatanen.
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