Multi-talented: A host of local and international musicians, poets, authors, politicians and intellectuals are involved in a project to honour the late ANC leader Oliver Tambo. Picture: REUTERS
Multi-talented: A host of local and international musicians, poets, authors, politicians and intellectuals are involved in a project to honour the late ANC leader Oliver Tambo. Picture: REUTERS

When acclaimed Afrikaans poet Antjie Krog was invited to take part in the recording of a new musical initiative Voices on OR: A Musical Tribute for Oliver Tambo by producer and music promoter Wandile Yani, she was ecstatic, regarding it as a huge honour.

The project Yani has been working on since 2012 is eventually coming together, with high-profile musicians from SA and the US, poets, authors, politicians and intellectuals collaborating.

So far more than 200 voices have been recorded for a double album that will be able to accommodate only 24 songs, giving award-winning jazz saxophonist McCoy Mrubata the difficult job of piecing together the voices with instruments to form a coherent audio narrative of a man who provided quality leadership and foresight during the fight for freedom, especially when the ANC was in exile.

"OR Tambo’s narrative in the main has always been one sided, as he has been regarded as mainly as a freedom fighter and lawyer — and yet there are so many layers to the late leader, one of which is the fact that he was very musical," Yani says. "He was a talented composer, arranger and choir master. Even as he led the ANC in exile for 30 years, he never forgot his artistic side.

"On many occasions OR, as he was popularly known, used that talent, merging it into the framework of the struggle.

"For example, it was his idea that the ANC must have the cultural ensemble Amandla, led by Jonas Gwangwa."

OR’S NARRATIVE HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE SIDED, MAINLY AS FREEDOM FIGHTER, LAWYER — THERE ARE MANY LAYERS TO HIM.

Yani says the response from people approached to participate has been so positive that he is contemplating a second volume of the album.

"So many people — white, black and coloured and of course Antjie Krog — have told me that they are excited to be part of this project," he says. "There is so much positive energy around the recording of this album. The mood in the studio almost feels like that which prevailed when SA attained freedom in 1994."

American jazz artist Gerald Clayton recorded his piece, supported by voices led by Gloria Bosman, at M2 Studios in Johannesburg recently.

"It feels so good to be part of this project and working with incredibly talented musicians from SA. When the recording is completed and the ensemble is ready to tour the country from October, I would definitely like to be part of it — if I am invited," says Clayton.

Voices on OR: A Musical Tribute for Oliver Tambo is a performing and recording arts project made possible with funding from the National Lotteries Commission.

Singer, songwriter and performer Bosman is the music director for the album, a task rarely allocated to female artists. Seasoned saxophonist Mrubata is producing the project and has already started brewing enchanting and distinctly home-brewed sounds with an international touch.

Mrubata is marshalling the Beda Hall Double Quartet, named after the band Tambo established at Fort Hare University and for which he was a vocalist. The new quartet features Paul Hanmer, Ayanda Sikade, Khaya Ceza, Shane Cooper, Tlale Makhene and Feya Faku. "This is a huge challenge, especially because I have to condense the more than 200 voices and many songs into something like 24 tracks.

"It is a good problem though, as I am spoilt for choice," Mrubata says.

Jazz trumpeter Faku says that he was touched by the project: "When Yani took us to Bizana in the Eastern Cape, to tour the village where Tambo was born on a field research, including seeing his school and church, I was touched by what I saw there.

"He came from a humble environment and yet he achieved so much greatness globally. I was pushed to write a meditative song due to the pain of the poverty I saw there, even during this day and age. It pained me so much."

Bosman says that although the weight of the project lays heavy on her shoulders, she is ready to deliver quality.

"I am ready and up to the challenge and am giving all I have learnt in the music industry in the past two decades," she says.

Afro pop singer Vusi Nova will represent the young generation and Pretty Yende will contribute an operatic sound to the project.

Also participating are seasoned music campaigners including Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer.

Giants of SA spoken word and literature Don Mattera, Lesego Rampolokeng, Mongane Serote and Lefifi Tladi will add their poetic voices.

"The objective, really, of the project is to utilise music, art, poetry and story-telling to contribute in narrating the story of Tambo along with disseminating educational information on SA’s sociopolitical history, thus bridging the misunderstanding and knowledge gap between the younger and older generations," says Yani.

A-list narrators for the recording include former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma; former speaker of parliamant Frene Ginwala; former cabinet minister Pallo Jordan; retired SA National Defence Force boss Gen Siphiwe Nyanda; former director-general of the department of home affairs Mavuso Msimang; business person Gertrude Shope; and Tambo’s children, Thembi, Dali and Tselane.

The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra is also participating in the project.

Artists from abroad include R&B crooner Eric Benet, teenage singer Cam Anthony, hip hop emcee Javier Starks, and jazz musicians Ambrose Akinmusire and Miles Mosley.

Performances at the recordings are characterised by interpretations of musical themes based on events around OR’s life. Included will be a composition titled Tambo’s Dance, a song inspired by an event in 1963 where Tambo got so excited by the contents of a document for Operation Mayibuye that he leapt out of his chair and did a jubilant dance around the room.

Voices on OR: A Musical Tribute for Oliver Tambo will launch on October 26 in Johannesburg. A tour of all nine provinces will commence on October 27 in Port Elizabeth.

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