Friday 25 October 2013

Supporting the Amazwi Omzansi Africa / Voices of South Africa Project

Njabula Madlala
Njabula Madlala
Baritone Njabulo Madlala's Amazawi Omzansi Africa/Voices of South Africa Project aims to help an inspire the next generation of South African opera stars. This year workshops and a singing competition were held in South Africa and a further competition and workshops are planned for 2014. As part of the fund-raising for the project we attended a private concert on 24 October 2013 given by Njabulo Madlala and a group of South African performers, soprano Filipa Van Eck, soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis, soprano Joyce Moholoagae, tenor Sipho Fubesi and harpist Alison Blackhall, with accompanist William Vann. The programme included arias from Bizet's Carmen and The Pearl Fishers, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Puccini's La Boheme and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, plus a reading and traditional South African songs to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Madlala's Amazawi Omzansi Africa/Voices of South Africa Project started in 2010 when he started invited colleagues and friends to travel to South Africa with him and work with young people there. This developed into offering training workshops and staged concerts.  In January 2013 they heard more than 200 singers audition across South Africa and Swaziland to take part in workshops and a singing competition. This is being repeated in 2014 with auditions in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Swaziland. Five singers will be chosen from each city and invited to Durban to take part in the final of the competition and a week of intensive workshops and training with invited guests.

Winners and invited judges at the 2013 Amazawi Omzansi Africa / Voices of South Africa Project
Winners and invited judges at the 2013 competition
The 35 finalists take part in semi-final and final rounds at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Howard College Theatre. The invited teachers will be the jury and there will be eight prises from ZAR1,000 (£80) to ZAR10,000 (£800). Prize money is to be used by participant towards singing lessons, buying music and study-related expenses. Part of the first prize money will be spent on a flight for the winner to come to London for auditions at music schools. The competition is followed by a week of talks and workshops. Each competitor receives feedback from the jurors privately. Invited guest teachers will then conduct a series of workshops with the finalists.

On 24 October 2013 in London, a packed and enthusiastic audience turned up to support Madlala in his venture. The concert opened with Madlala singing a pair of South African songs, This little light of Mine, Ntyilo Ntyilo then all the singers assembled to sing Thula Sizwe.

We were then treated so a selection of arias from Bizet's Carmen. Sarah-Jane Lewis sang Carmen's Habanera, Filipa Van Eck sang Micaela's Act 3 aria Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante, Sipho Fubesi sang Don Jose's Flower Song, Fubesi and Van Eck sang Don Jose and Micaela's duet from Act 1, and finally Madlala sang Escamillo's aria. This was followed by harpist Alison Blackhall performing Debussy's Arabesque No. 1.

Van Eck and Madlala sang Zerlina and Don Giovanni's duet La ci darem la mano from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Lewis sang Santuzza's  Voi lo sapete, o mamma from Mascagni's Cavelleria Rusticana. Then Fubesi and Madlala brought the first half to a close with the duet from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.

Part two opened with Musetta's waltz song from Puccini's La Boheme sung by Van Eck. Then Joyce Moholoagae sang Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess accompanied by Alison Blackhall on harp. This section was brought a close with Porgy and Bess's duet Bess you is my woman now sung by Lewis and Madlala.

After Madlala sang The retreat song: Jikele Manweni Siyahamba John Battersby gave a reading from his afterword to Anthony Sampson's biography of Nelson Mandela. Madlala sang a further group of South African songs before being joined on stage by the whole cast for Shosholoza and The Click Song: Qongqothwane, these latter two with the audience being encouraged to join in.

This was a wonderfully joyful occasion. The Gershwin and the opera items were all sung from memory in vividly involving performances with pianist William Vann giving sterling support from the piano. And in the South African items the cast's enjoyment, particularly as many of the audience were South African, was palpable.

You can find out a more about the Amazwi Omzansi Africa / Voices of South Africa Project from their website.

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