Sharing musicianship skills with young Swazi talent!
Originally posted: 10 October, 2011
Up and At 'Em
Thankfully, the Embassy folk are running a little late this morning. Our driver, the imposing yet surprisingly gentle and impeccably discreet Abraham, picks us up closer to 9:00 than 8:30 so we have a little more time to linger over the hotel's impressive breakfast buffet (we could get used to this!). We're taken to a residential neighborhood where we pull into a property that, though currently in relative disuse, obviously once belonged to someone of above average wealth for the region.
Cultural Envoy, Keri Chryst, meets with young Swazi talent for a casual chit chat before the workshop starts.
This is the new site for the arts and music foundation started by Swaziland's golden boy of what they call "Swazi Soul". Bholoja proudly, yet with a measure of humility, shows us around the facility which is slated to be a center for providing music education to people who would not otherwise get it. We pass through rooms dedicated to various instruments - piano, guitare, computer generated sound, video editing, etc. For now, there is only about 1 instrument per dedicated room, but they've only been in this new location for about 3 months, so I assume the project is in development.
With a little help from my (media) friends
In the video editing room, I run into Bholoja's brother and cameraman who is impressed with my digital camera and starts to ask me about it - "You wanna try it?" I offer, "You'll be doing me a favor if you wanna take pictures of this event." I tell him to feel free to fill up the memory card and wear out the battery 'cause there's more where that came from, and he seems excited to get his hands on the equipment to play around. His cohort Mapps is equally pleased to check out the pocket HD video camera I recently acquired specifically to bring along on these trips - this will give both of us more choices for shots and angles in the final cut. For my part, I'm just happy to have someone on hand to look after the documentary aspects of the day, instead of having to monitor batteries, camera angles, etc. myself! (Thanks guys!)
Show and Tell
We're taken into a room where they've gathered a bunch of chairs and couches into a loungey feeling circle so that we can start a workshop with members of Bholoja's band, as well as other area artists, poets and musicians - about 16 people, all told. Again, we're not quite sure in advance what topics they'll be most interested in, but after a quick song or two to show them a bit of what we can do (Annie Ross' "Twisted") and for them to show us what THEY can do (guitarists, singers, poets) - we soon settle on starting with a quick workshop on basic vocal technique where I get the whole room, musicians and singers alike, buzzing away with lip trills and becoming more aware of how better to use their breath and some rudiments of the vocal mechanism.
After a few rounds of "Amazing Grace" to put these techniques into practice, the conversation turns to some more technical questions about musicianship and the importance of written versus oral/aural tradition. We haven't actually worked with them yet (beyond the initial show & tell) so we're not yet aware of just how their oral/aural musical tradition functions in practice. Still, after making the case for the "reading, writing and arithmetic" of the western notation system, we agree that in most musical genres, when it comes to assimilation of such things as style and phrasing, etc, the importance of the aural tradition cannot be denied. Conclusion : best to practice both. So we do - again returning to jazz roots to sketch out a 12 bar blues on the white board.
When in doubt, play the blues!
Time to break for lunch, generously provided to all participants - a choice of chicken or beef curry from a local Swazi restaurant. Not bad! And now we finally get the opportunity to talk to a few people one on one. Most of these people - aged 20-25 I'd guess - are eager to drag as much information out of us as possible in the short time we're here, and we're happy to comply to the best of our ability. We make no bones about admitting when we don't have the expertise they might be looking for - many are keen on learning a bit more about marketing strategy than either Jeff or I is qualified to speak to. But we do our best to be a sounding board for their concerns, and provide encouragement and advice where we can.