Monday, December 20, 2010

Mokale Koapeng Among composers of Nightingale String Quartet CD 'The Bow Project'

[TOP: The Bow Project; The Nightingale String Quartet; TUTL FKT044 (2010) BOTTOM: Mokale Koapeng]

After years of exchanging email messages with the prominent South African composer and choral director Mokale Koapeng, we managed to interview him by phone in the course of his visit to Edmonton, Alberta with the SDASA Chorale he conducts.

By way of background, I understand that you were born in 1963?
That's correct.
Where were you born, Mokale?
Orlando West, Soweto, that is Johannesburg
Have you lived most of your life in Soweto?
Soweto seems to have played an important part in your career. I understand that when the music directors retired from the Nation Building Festival founded by the Editor of The Sowetan that you were one of the music directors who took over?
Who was your co-director?
My co-director was Lududmo Magangane.
I must say you've been in a wide variety of activities, especially in the last two years!
Absolutely, yes! I think growing up in a place like Soweto exposes you to a wide range of activity, and I learned to appreciate diversity. That is reflected in the kind of activities I have been involved in.
Was it primarily vocal music to which you were exposed, or instrumental also?
It was naturally vocal because my parents actually met in a church choir, and my Dad sang in a prominent community choir back in Johannesburg. I grew up in a family that played a lot of vocal music, but I guess God gave me the ability to assimilate and appreciate a good number of things. I've had the privilege of interacting with instrumental musicians, jazz musicians and concert musicians, and I operate in all those musical styles.
When you were growing up did you play any instruments?
Yes, I started playing the piano at the age of 10 and did relatively well but my major area of interest was in conducting, and later in composing.
How long have you been composing, Mokale?
Well, I started composing in the early Eighties, around '84, '85. I started with gospel music, then moved on to choral music, moved on to instrumental music, then jazz. My first classical composition, Khutso, was originally written for SDASA Chorale. The way it was structured, it could lend itself to a choral arrangement because I was involved with choirs. Actually it is the only popular piece that I have at the moment. It has just been followed by a string quartet that was recorded last year. A colleague of mine in South Africa, Michael Blake, selected about 11 prominent South African composers who were commissioned to write music based on the traditional music of the Xhosa. A Danish record company put together a CD called “The Bow Project”.
Did you have anything else you wanted to say about that?
Well, for me, that project was an interesting one because it forced me, and I suppose other composers who were part of the project, to really interact with an intersection of our indigenous music and modern classical music. It helped me in terms of really absorbing the indigenous idiom. My contribution actually has become the second most popular from Khutso. You can look it up under “Bow Project” on
Mantombi Matotiyana and Denmark's Nightingale String Quartet?
That's the recording, yes.
It says NewMusicSA; is that part of it?
Actually that's a project of NewMusic, yes.

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