Music icons past and present to be honoured

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SAMROMusic icons past and present to be honoured in a special concert evening ‘composed’ by Gerard Sekoto, SAMRO Foundation and SA Post Office.

The SAMRO Foundation has announced a new partnership with the Gerard Sekoto Foundation and the South African Post Office on its annual flagship project for postgraduate music students, the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition.

This year’s competition, which takes the form of a Concert Evening at the Wits Great Hall on Saturday, 30 August 2014, will see the compositions of the four finalists – two in the Western Art Music genre and two in the Jazz/Popular Music style – being performed before a live audience.

At the end of the evening, the winners of two international scholarships worth R170 000 each will be announced, as well as subsidiary awards including the newly launched Surendran Reddy clazz Award.

The gifted young Western Art Music composers vying for this enticing prize are University of Cape Town Master’s student Amy Crankshaw and Antoni Schonken, a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University (Western Art Music).

In the Jazz/Popular Music section of the competition, the compositions of Grahamstown-based MMus graduate Kingsley Buitendag and University of KwaZulu-Natal Master’s degree candidate Prince Bulo (Jazz/Popular Music) will take centre stage.

Life-changing though the occasion will no doubt be for the two young music students who will be declared the winners of the lucrative scholarships, it will be equally momentous from a music heritage point of view.

The late Gerard Sekoto, one of South Africa’s most highly regarded visual artists, was also a gifted musician – and two of his original compositions will receive their much-anticipatedpublic premiere at the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships concert evening.

In a coup for South African arts and culture, Sekoto’s works Africa and Igoli will be performed by Johannesburg’s Orbit Big Band, arranged by former SAMRO scholarship winner James Bassingthwaighte.

In the 1990s, the South African Post Office issued two overseas postage stamps depicting artworks by Sekoto, as well as a miniature sheet and commemorative covers.

In July 2014, the SA Post Office cemented its commitment to conserving arts heritage by issuing a series of 10 commemorative stamps depicting South African music legends, who may be gone but are certainly not forgotten: James Phillips, Brenda Fassie, Johannes Kerkorrel, Lucky Dube, Miriam Makeba, Solomon Linda, Spokes Mashiane, Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde, Kippie Moeketsi and Taliep Petersen. These, as well as the Sekoto stamps and Nelson Mandela tribute stamps, will be on display and for sale at the scholarships concert evening.

“The music legends featured on the commemorative stamps were chosen for their innovative music, which brought fundamental change to the perceptions of South Africans and was instrumental in uniting societies,” explains Lungile Lose of the SA Post Office.

“Criteria used in choosing them included factors such as whether they introduced a completely new, original and distinctively South African style of music. The musicians are as representative as possible of our society, covering the most important or best-known musical genres.”

Themba Wakashe, the chairman of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, adds: “We are proud to collaborate with the SAMRO Foundation to preserve and nurture Sekoto’s legacy.”

The Sekoto Foundation aims to develop awareness and understanding of Sekoto’s legacy by teaching South Africans about his life, art, music, philosophy and writings. Because formal art education was largely out of reach to black South Africans during apartheid, Sekoto hoped to see this rectified and his will expressly stated that his estate should be used to uplift art education for young people.

André le Roux, managing director of the SAMRO Foundation, is excited about Sekoto’s musical works finally being brought to life on stage – the same original scores that are safely housed in the SAMRO Music Archive.

“I heard a lovely story about Gerard Sekoto’s relationship with music,” he relates. “Apparently, he was walking down one of the famous Parisian walkways and passed a bar or eatery. There was a competition on the go for a new pianist to play for their clientele. Gerard entered, started playing and promptly won the competition, which meant that he played music for the pub.

“This was often how he earned his living as a musician – composing new tunes and playing music – because as we all know, one cannot always survive on the visual arts alone.”

Le Roux believes that not enough is done to celebrate Sekoto’s legacy as a composer and for this reason, a natural common ground exists between the SAMRO Foundation and the Sekoto Foundation, where the arts and creativity in general are supported and celebrated. It’s a coup to have the Post Office as part of this “tripartite arts alliance”, he says.

“The SAMRO Foundation’s motto may be ‘composing the future’, but we are equally committed to celebrating and preserving our past cultural riches,” says Le Roux.

Shifty Records, the seminal 1980s-era independent record label that kept the South African music flag flying high with its stable of boundary-breaking artists, will also have a strong presence at the scholarships Concert Evening.

Shifty’s Lloyd Ross said it is an honour to participate in this prestigious event: “The timing of the event is serendipitous, as it occurs just two days before the launch of Shifty September at the Alliance Française in Johannesburg, which is to be a month-long focus on the legacy of the fiercely independent record label that was a home to composers of songs of conscience of all creeds during the dark decade before the birth of our democracy.

“The invitation is much appreciated, because like the inclusion of two Shifty artists on the recent Post Office’s Music Legend series stamps, it is a recognition of the importance of the work that Shifty did at a time where it seemed like the record and broadcast industries were working their hardest to impede the ambitions of the committed composers in the Shifty fold.”

Entrance to the Concert Evening at the Wits Great Hall on 30 August 2014 is free, but is by invitation only and seating is limited. To reserve your seat, please call Naseema at 011 712 8417 or e-mail:naseema.yusuf@samro.org.za . Visit www.samrofoundation.org.za  or follow @SAMROFoundation on Twitter or Facebook for more information.

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