by Beverley Brommert
Youth Day, 2019 brings the announcement by Cape Town Opera of its latest commission/production: Soweto Uprising – The Aftermath, scheduled for staging in October this year. Not for the first time, this company is demonstrating its commitment to promoting love of music and opera among the youth, and this venture has the added merit of recording a painful past with which today’s younger generation may be increasingly unfamiliar.
The production represents a collaboration between the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (which is contributing some necessary funding) and a creative team consisting of script-writer and director Mhlanguli George and composer Sipumzo Lucwaba, co-ordinated by CTO’s Masixole Makwetu, responsible for the company’s Youth Development and Education programmes.
When completed, the new work will be performed by students from Chris Hani Secondary School and Lathi-Tha School of Skills, both based in Khayelitsha.
On the motivation for Soweto Uprising…, Makwetu explained that this musical is intended to make today’s youth aware that June 16th is not “just a day off school”; its commemoration of a significant event in South African history, and especially the sacrifices incidental thereto, should be brought to the attention of learners in 2019. He insisted that “both sides of the story need to be heard for us to understand where we’ve come from since 1976. What have we learnt? How have things changed, and how can we inspire youth today?” The work deals specifically with the aftermath as opposed to the uprising per se, exploring what happened to those involved on opposing sides in the 1970s.
Although far too young to claim any personal participation in that march, Makwetu has a deep interest in it through his activist grandfather, who was a political prisoner on Robben Island at the time.
Scriptwriter and director Mhlanguli George, noted for his fresh and unique take on various productions, said “I was very happy when Masixole asked me to direct this musical, then on reflection I realised that it’s not like previous shows as some of those involved are still alive – unlike works dating from a long-gone past. That enabled me to do first-hand research, such as talking to Seth Mazibuko (a school prefect who headed the march). I heard the story from my parents… Are the kids up to the challenge? Totally. I’ve worked with learners at both these schools before, on an adaptation of Tsotsi, and they’re equally committed and full of talent. I’m looking forward to working with them again.”
Composer Sipumzo Lucwaba admitted that inspiration for the score of Soweto Uprising… is a complex affair, due to the broad range of emotions evoked. “You can’t just rush in and start composing for a subject like this; there’s hope, tragedy, loss, ups and downs, highs and lows. As for genre, there are elements of choral music as well as high school musical. With my Eastern Cape roots, I’m familiar with that powerfully emotive singing heard at, for example, sports matches to rouse a crowd the way struggle songs do, and that is also included.” He was adamant though that traditional struggle songs are not incorporated into his score: “Do we want people moved by ‘old’ music? Struggle songs are very specific, and I need to create new songs of similar power instead of relying on history.”
Western Cape Government DCAS Minister Anroux Marais had the last word: “We at Cultural Affairs and Sport support every programme and production that promotes youth development and education, province-wide. Young people – past, present and future – are extremely important. To members of the creative team with this sensitive story to tell, I say ‘Do what you do’. The subject is still relevant today, and restores meaning to the past. We particularly support Cape Town Opera, which has given opportunities to young upcoming artists from all walks of life, many of them previously disadvantaged; they can use opera to tell their story. Financial support and moral support are symbiotic, but the former is not easy as national government is not generous when it comes to cultural affairs. However, we do our best.”
CLICK HERE and Meet the team, Script Writer + Director, Mhlanguli George and Composer, Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, be introduced to this exciting new Youth Day project.
Video by Dan Rutland Manners and photograph by Niel Roux