A Musical Tribute on the Life of Nelson Mandela
Dr. Karen Walwyn
Lullaby, a cappella, is a song written for duet. Madiba’s mother was the third of four wives had by his father. Madiba was one of 13 children within the extended family. The inspiration for writing in 5/4 comes from the often-used uneven rhythmic patterns indigenous to tribesmen folk songs. Within the twomeasure statement, (Lala Usana), as in the first two measures of the song, there is a gentle pull on the first beat of the second measure, on the syllable ‘sa’ of Usana. This pull should be felt throughout the lullaby.
This is theoretically in the C mixolydian mode. The lowered 7th scale degree gives this song the typical flavor of the folk music sung by mixed tribes. In performance, it is desired to have an emphasis on the lowered 7th scale degree.
The movement of the melodic line down a M2 in the Baritone at measure 17 is an example that demonstrates the primary usage of the M2 in their harmonic language. Early compositional styles and tastes going back to the mid to the late 1800’s bring a mixture of the Zulu and Xhosa tribes, European traditions and Jazz influences together.
Birth is for solo piano, approximately 7 minutes in length and connects directly into the first choral movement, Madiba.
While Madiba is the movement introducing him as a little boy, it is also fore shadowing the future of his heroic steps towards freedom. The wondering and twisting nature of tonality lends towards the fore shadowing of the various paths, struggles and journeys to freedom by Mandela.
Sung a cappella, Madiba is, as you may already know, one of the favorite names used by Nelson Mandela and by his countrymen however, Rolihlahla is Mr Mandela’s birth name: it is an isiXhosa name which means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”. His father gave him this name. His name is used as a pedal point by the tenors and basses because Mandela would mature into a very stubborn and committed warrior for his people. The emphasis once again on the M2 is heard in the persistent clashes throughout the movement demonstrating the strength of character of Mandela and his comrades as they would continue their fight for equality and freedom from apartheid. Madiba, the name chosen by his closest family members to the distant countrymen is repeated with enthusiasm, as in Rehearsal 8, represents the hundreds of thousands of South African men, women, and children that would call out his name in support of his continued efforts against the government juxtaposed to Rehearsal 11 where in this more lyrical section, the impassioned cries for his release from jail are felt.
Circumcision is a work with improvised African Drums, (about 3 drummers). There are Vocal Rhythm Groups which sing syllables in a variety of rhythms that reflect some of the South African native rhythms indigenous to their culture while the narrative speaks of the times and legacy of this highly important ritual of South African young men.
Each of the three songs are based on ritual songs of the tribesmen of South Africa. To American ears, there are bitter tonalities heard which are based on the typical harmonic language of the tribesmen and are to be emphasized without pause.
The accompanying vocalizations are mirroring the environment when a group of natives instantaneously start singing. The Call and Response is the most popular format in their folk song tradition. Tribesmen may have gathered, and one singer may just start singing with a simple phrase, and then the phrase is repeated by the rest of the gathered folks. The clapping, and other various vocalizations that create the rhythmic effects are all spontaneous, supportive and are equally as important as the melodies. The emphasis is on the group effort and soloists are not particularly highlighted.
We Are One, a cappella, reveals the tortuous and uncivil moments in prison for the political prisoners and for all that were unjustly captured and, in some cases, hung. It has narration on the speech spoken by Mandela at the Rivonia Trials regarding the fight for freedom while preparing to give his life and the lives of his comrades; it is the last part of his infamous speech just before his sentence was announced. The
temperament is solemn. The most important message is that those that stood up to support Mandela came from all walks of life, thus the number of key changes.
Soweto is a work for solo piano. It is accompanied by a power point presentation that depicts the horrific tragedy of Soweto in 1976 of the children that worked in protest for the right to speak and learn in the native language along with desire to learn subjects that would help them prepare for prosperous jobs.
Zenzani na is in Xhosa and is a cappella. Its lyrics ask why the atrocities continue to happen to the native people of South Africa; “is it because our color is black?” It was sung by children on the morning that approximately 20,000 peacefully walked to Orlando Stadium in Soweto to stand up to the government for classes to be taught in their language, Xhosa, and to have classes taught to the children so that they could develop important skills for work and careers, not courses to become servants. Hundreds of children were killed by bullets from the police in response to their peaceful protest.
Dance to Freedom has three protest songs, in Xhosa, which are all accompanied by African drums, and can include dance choreography. Many black South Africans would secretly gather to plan demonstrations and marches. It was illegal to gather under the Apartheid rule. In their meetings, one would make a statement in demonstration of their struggle for freedom and eventually it would turn into a melody which would quickly elicit a response by the majority of the crowd.
Ekuseni, one of the dances from Dance to Freedom, includes the Toyi Toyi step (march) which is a very simple movement which many thousands of citizens of South Africa executed in huge marches to help demonstrate their struggle for civil rights. The style in which they executed the march was done to show strength to the Apartheid government. It is this march that caught the attention of the international
community and as other countries saw these marches on their news stations, many leaders openly criticized the government which would eventually bring too much pressure for the Apartheid government to continue to have Mandela imprisoned.
It is Three O’Clock is a cappella. This is a joyous movement as it is in a major key of G but does flirt with C mixolydian mode. The lowered 7th reminds us of the indigenous harmonic vocabulary of the natives. The choice of 5/4 in this movement represents the period when so many thousands of protestors marched in the streets to fight for civil rights but to protect themselves from the ensuing police, they walked in groups of five. The ride from his imprisonment to the town center as a freeman, Mandela’s car driver made unfortunate travel choices to the town center and encountered hundreds of people trying to greet the car along the way that they were stuck in traffic and Mandela would arrive nearly three hours late for his speech to his long awaited countrymen and women.
The tenors and baritones speak of Mandela, as he has time to reflect on the 27 years of imprisonment. The sopranos and altos speak of the extended waiting time for Mandela’s arrival as they reflect on many of the injustices over the many decades of Apartheid combined with their joy for his release and the move forward to disintegration of the Apartheid government.
The finale is Nkosi sikeleli’Africa for Our President, with piano, and African drums, and in Xhosa. It includes a portion of Mandela’s Inaugural Speech for his presidency as the first black president of South Africa. Nkosi was Mandela’s most favorite song, as it was once the anthem for the natives of South Africa and it became part of the National Anthem for all South Africans. Portions of ‘Oh, Freedom’, ‘We
Shall Overcome’, and ‘Amen’, American spirituals, are interwoven within the fabric of the anthem near the finale of this movement in honor of the American support as South Africa moves to becoming a free nation.
Copyright© Karen Walwyn 2020