Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mokale Koapeng, South African Classical Composer

Mokale Koapeng is a South African composer and choral director who was born in 1963. He is a Music graduate of The University of Witwatersrand. Mokale has conceived a long-term project which he calls “A Hidden Cultural Picture”. He came across the phrase on the page devoted to the African American composer Edmond Dede (1827-1903) at AfriClassical.com, where a visitor remarked:

"That is most fascinating - it reveals a previously hidden cultural picture which far too few of our contemporaries could conceive. This suggests a rarely seen dimension to that epoch, and raises a lot of questions."

Mokale explains that "A Hidden Cultural Picture" aims to bring classical music of composers of African descent to the music public in South Africa, in part by incorporating it in established national choral festivals..

In 2000 he was appointed as conductor of the University of Pretoria Chorale. Mokale is also the Music Director of SDASA Chorale, drawn from the Seventh Day Adventists' Student Association. It released the CD Simunye to international acclaim in partnership with a British vocal group, I Fagiolini. The website of I Fagiolini explains the title:

Simunye is a Zulu word meaning 'we are one' and is the name given to a project developed by I Fagiolini and the SDASA Chorale of Soweto. It resulted in a CD and joint concert tours to South Africa, the UK, Scandinavia and Bermuda.”

I Fagiolini's website provides several glowing comments on the CD from the press:

'This remarkable record' – The Times of London

'Audience smiling from ear to ear with sheer pleasure' - Business Day, South Africa

'Left seduced, enchanted and spiritually moved' – Daily News, South Africa

'A Simunye concert is an unforgettable experience. Don't miss it.' - Classical Music

Brett Pyper wrote the liner notes for the CD and has written additional comments at the website of I Fagiolini, including this overview of the SDASA Chorale of which Mokale Koapeng is Music Director:

The SDASA Chorale is an amateur gospel group which draws its members from the Seventh Day Adventists' Students Association (SDASA) in Soweto. In recent years it has earned the reputation as one of South Africa's mostly highly regarded Gospel ensembles. The group was selected as the only South African choir to be featured on the main programme of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in 1996. It has also performed at the Johannesburg Arts Festival alongside the celebrated Wendy Mseleku and Gloria Bosman. SDASA Chorale has performed with Sibongile Khumalo, Mimi Coertsee and shared stage with some of the well-known musicians in the country like Benjamin Dube and Tshepo Tshola. It has performed all over South Africa including Botswana and Lesotho.

A male-voice ensemble comprising nineteen members, the SDASA Chorale has been in existence for fourteen years and is committed to rendering community service. The group often performs for charities, and has initiated projects like visits to prisons and the upgrading of hostels. It is also involved with educational programmes like the Catch Them Young and Project Sunrise initiatives in Soweto. What distinguishes the group further is the fact that it has a number of talented composers within its ranks. The group's repertoire includes original compositions by four talented songwriters, all of whom sing in the group as well: G.M. Mojapelo (regrettably deceased in 1994), Mokale Koapeng, Boyce Monkitsi Seoketsa and Bheka Dlamini. These composers write in widely divergent styles, and the group is renowned for the versatility of its repertoire, while remaining firmly rooted in the bedrock of indigenous church music.”

The CD has 17 tracks, opening with Egolgotha (At Golgotha) and closing with Home. Mokale wrote two of the pieces and arranged a third. All of the tracks can be sampled at the Music section of Amazon.com Brett Pyper comments on the two works Mokale composed, Khutsho and Kgosietsile:

Mokale Koapeng (b.1963) / Roderick Williams (b.1965) – Khutsho
Mokale composed this heartfelt chant for peace in 1988, after years of intense political oppression and resistance in South Africa with no end in sight. When he introduced the piece during one of the first sessions that the two groups spent together, Roddy was moved to write a part for I Fagiolini that would combine Mokale's piece with another chant for peace with a text from the heart of the Western liturgy, the 'Agnus Dei'.
Mokale Koapeng - Kgosietsile (Kingdom Come)
Perhaps the most eclectic of the SDASA Chorale's resident composers, Mokale combines his interest in international gospel and jazz styles with a deep love of indigenous African music. He has based this swinging setting of "the Lord's Prayer" on a shifting whole-tone bass pattern that is typical of traditional Xhosa music. Above this, he has written a sophisticated blend of parts that exploits the respective vocal idioms of I Fagiolini and the SDASA Chorale.

Excerpts from Mokale's bio summarize his many musical works and performances:

Mokale has performed with some of the best known musicians in the country, these include Sibongile Khumalo, Bheki Khoza Motsumi Makhene, Wendy Mseleku, Gloria Bosman, Khaya Mahlangu and many more.

He has directed musical productions like “Rainbow of Hope” (a dance revue by Nomsa Manaka, Wits Theatre 1991), “Swing High, Sweet Gospel” (Arts Alive, 1993/4), “Sellout” (Grahamstown 1995) and arranged the music of Sibongile Mngoma’s performance at the Grahamstown Festival (1997). Mokale founded the Soweto Youth Jazz Orchestra. He toured England and West Africa. He also toured Canada, USA and Wales as the pianist of Imilonji Ka Ntu Chorale Society.

Together with Motsumi Makhene, Sibongile Khumalo and Hugh Masekela, Mokale co-composed the music of “Milestones”, a musical by Mandla Langa. The musical premiered at the Grahamstown Festival and had a run at the State Theatre. The musical won 1999 FNB SAMA’s Best Soundtrack Award.

In October 1999, he held workshops on South African vocal, choral and jazz styles at the Sibelius Academy and the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.

He developed a concept called “Intyilo Kantu: Melodies of the Wise”. The concept involved a French solo ensemble Musicatreize and the University of Pretoria Chorale. The performances were held at the Standard Bank National Festival, Grahamstown and Octobre -en-Normandie, Rouen, France in 2001.

Together with the University of Pretoria Chorale and the Eastern Cape Philharmonic, Mokale performed the South African premiere of Stanley Glasser’s cantata; “The Chameleon and the Lizard”. The performance was at the 2003 New Music Indaba Festival in Grahamstown.
He composed and conducted the world premiere of “CANTUS IN MEMORIA ‘76”. The work commemorates the 30th anniversary of events of June 16, 1976.

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