Students bring African music to life


The good news for schoolchildren taught by Rhodes graduates is they’re likely to get a rounded education that includes the skills and sensibilities offered by African music. Thanks to a new African Ensemble course at the University’s Department of Music and Musicology, dozens of students are getting the opportunity to learn, practice and teach music, dancing and storytelling from this continent.

Members of the public had a glimpse of what goes on behind the classroom doors at a lively outdoor concert last Friday at the International library for African Music amphitheatre.

The performances also served as an examination for Bachelor of Arts students who take African music as part of their Instrumental Music Studies.

Through the African Ensemble course at the Rhodes University Department of Music and Musicology, students are getting the opportunity to learn, practice and teach music, dancing and storytelling. Photo: Clarize Coertze

Along with Bachelor of Education Foundation Phase trainee teachers and Bachelor of Music student, they learn various types of Southern African instruments and dances, including the marimba.

Lecturer and coordinator of the African Ensemble course Dr Boudina McConnachie said the performance exam would be an annual event. “At the end of every semester we have a concert where we examine the students and their practicals are always performances rather than an exam,” she said.

Visiting lecture from Uganda Albert Bisaso Ssempeke taught the students songs on various Ugandan instruments, many of which he brought with him and part-time lecturer Jillian Frazer taught them marimba. Anthony Caplan, also part-time, teaches Southern African instruments, African and diasporic guitar and transcription. Their African song and dance lecturer is Dumisa Mpupha.

Students perform during the end of year course. Photo: Clarize Coertze

According to McConnachie these performances are significant not only for music students, but for everyone, because they celebrate African culture.

“We live in South Africa and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that students who are into music don’t have access to African music,” McConnachie said. “Our dream as ILAM is for every student on campus to be able to experience African music.”

Anda Singatha, a third-year Bachelor of Education foundation phase student, felt the concert was a success. “As teachers in the making we need to know how to play musical instruments, so we can impart the knowledge to our pupils,” said Singatha.  He said performing in front of an audience was a great opportunity for them, building their confidence and giving them courage – just what they need for their profession.

Musicians perform during the educational workshop. Photo: Clarize Coertze

Singatha and his group performed the classic, Mbube.

“One thing we wanted to introduce in the song was to bring African music alive so we can incorporate it in our teaching methods” said Singatha.

Another student, Catherine White, performed Jonathan – a story about an old woman who is in love with a younger boy. The age gap causes controversy in the community and in their song and dance they are encouraging the old woman to “go for it” because it makes her happy.

African music was taught to students at ILAM. Photo: Clarize Coertze

“This course is significant because it brings us together. It’s not only Xhosa people taking the subject. I’m English speaking and I love it. It’s way for us to learn about our different cultures and get to know each other in a fun way.”

McConnachie is optimistic that these performances are going to grow. She says they are thinking of hosting them in a bigger venue in future, such as the Rhodes Theatre.

She encouraged students and the public to come and support them at future concerts and promised an artist from Nigeria next year.

“We will be bringing many African musicians from around Africa to ILAM next year. We need the public’s support to bring these amazing talents to Grahamstown!”


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