Poet and academic Professor Peter Mtuze was among a small group of surviving members of the Cradock based Congress Choir who gave a nostalgic performance at the Albany Museum at the launch of the Songs of Freedom exhibition recently. The exhibition in honour of composer, priest and activist Canon James Arthur Calata is the first phase of the Songs for Freedom project and comprises words and images. The second phase will entail the transcription of the music into notation from the audio recordings done by the surviving members of the Congress Choir.
Canon Calata, born in 1895, lived a very rich and diverse life and died in 1983 at the age of 88. Known as “JA” or Tatou, he was a seasoned politician of the African National Congress which he joined in 1930 and in which he served as the Secretary General and a Chaplain, among other positions.
Calata was also a prolific composer of church hymns and later revolutionary songs intended to conscientise communities in the Eastern Cape and also to raise funds for the African National Congress and community projects in Cradock, where Calata was based. Songs he composed include I-Apartheid, Amavolontiya, Uwelo lukaSisulu, USnini Mxokozeli, and many others.
Mtuze, who lives in King William’s Town, is one of the over-70s who benefited from their interactions with Calata.
His compositions dealt with the politics of the day and after he had taught the songs, he would destroy the musical scores to avoid being caught by the police with ‘subversive information’ in his possession.
Listen to this excerpt from the choir’s performance at Albany Museum on 23 November: