It’s always interesting to hear contemporary interpretations of kwela and to learn more about those who are bringing these sounds to our ears some fifty years after kwela’s heyday. I stumbled upon Buskaid whilst undertaking some search-engine led investigation regarding a long-forgotten question, and what a fortunate turn of events this has been.
Buskaid is a charity that is registered in both South Africa and in the United Kingdom. It was started, and continues to be directed, by British viola player, Rosemary Nalden. When the problems that a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto, were highlighted in a BBC program, Rosemary felt a call to respond, and (no doubt with the hard work and vision of many others behind the scenes – then again, maybe not!) Buskaid was born. The result of the amazing work of this organisation has been the changing of many young Sowetan lives through their exposure, participation and learning within the Buskaid Soweto String Project (BSSP).
The Project has achieved many milestones – one of their senior students, Samson Diamond, has graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester; their performing ensemble has toured many countries of the World and has made a number of professional recordings that are available via the charity’s web site.
One of these recordings – Tshwaranang (Unite) – is the product of the students’ “kwela sessions”, in which they were given free reign and encouragement to work on their own compositions. I bought the CD online (proceeds to the charity) and although it is in quite some contrast to the period recordings of Mashiyane and Lerole, the spirit of kwela clearly lives on :-) The recording features flute and percussion as well as violins, violas, cellos, double basses. However, the whole recording is lifted by some great vocals – a bit like how ‘Big Voice’ Jack Lerole changed the course of kwela through the introduction of vocals. In addition, the CD comes with comprehensive track notes and quotes from the students, which really brings it alive:
Kwela became an “anthem” to every string player in Soweto and to those who followed kwela music. Samson’s Special is one of the developing tunes and was transmitted aurally to the youngsters. It has since progressed with more direction and clarity from being played repeatedly with spontaneous changes of ideas…