For clas­si­cal scholar, a cello well met

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - PEOPLE - LIZ CLARKE

THE MU­SIC of El­gar, Brahms and Han­del, and the haunt­ing sounds of the cello and Jaque­line du Pre, are hardly things you would as­so­ciate with a town­ship up­bring­ing, but the story of Dr Thokozani Mh­lambi,

32, born in Madadeni out­side New­cas­tle, goes against the odds.

“I sup­pose you are won­der­ing how a town­ship child came to study the cello,” he grinned know­ingly. “When I was at high school, I was asked what mu­sic I liked. I had heard the cello played once, so I said it was what I wanted to learn.

“My fa­ther had just enough to buy me one and, from then on, my cello be­came a cen­tral part of my life. I lived for it. I al­ways say it lis­tens to my heart. It un­der­stands the way I feel. When I’m alone with my thoughts, it’s my clos­est friend.”

How­ever the school­boy cello has been su­per­seded by a clas­sic baroque cello, which he had espe­cially made for him in a beau­ti­ful light wood, with old-school an­i­mal gut strings.

“Ev­ery time I hear it, new ideas and com­po­si­tions whirl through my head.” It is a heady mix of imag­i­na­tion and pos­si­bil­i­ties, and sound sym­me­try, that fas­ci­nates him and com­pels him for­ward in his mu­si­cal ca­reer.

“There is a strong con­nec­tion be­tween the sounds the bow makes on a cello and those that tra­di­tional African in­stru­ments make. It’s al­most as though, in our deep past, there was a meet­ing point.”

“Princess Ma­gogo,” he says her name with rev­er­ence, “in­spires me to dis­cover more of the roots of African mu­sic, myths that are part of cul­tural threads and the poetry that must never be for­got­ten.”

Ma­gogo, mother of Chief Man­go­suthu Buthelezi, was born in 1900, the daugh­ter of Zulu King Dinizulu kaCetshwayo (1868-1913) and Queen Silomo. In 1926, she mar­ried Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi.

“Princess Ma­gogo left us a rich legacy, which needs to be ex­plored and cher­ished. She was a singer and poet, and com­posed some beau­ti­ful Zulu clas­si­cal mu­sic.”

The baroque cello and Ma­gogo’s mu­si­cal prow­ess have a lot in com­mon: “She was gifted in play­ing the ugubhu (a stringed bow and cal­abash in­stru­ment) and the isithon­tolo (an in­stru­ment like a bow, with a string down its mid­dle). The thrill for me is to try to bring the two sounds to­gether … and pro­duce mu­sic and song that blends both cul­tures, mak­ing some­thing com­pletely new.”

Fol­low Mh­lambi on In­sta­gram: @thokozani_mh­lambi

Mh­lambi stud­ied at the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic in Stock­holm, Swe­den, and the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town, where he ob­tained his PhD in Mu­sic in 2015. He is the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion Post­doc­toral Fel­low in In­no­va­tion at UCT.

Dr Thokozani Mh­lambi, mak­ing a new type of fu­sion mu­sic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.