The Storming: Insurrections Ensemble

Illustration from the catalogue by Stephane Conradie

September 2015, District Six Homecoming Centre, Cape Town.

Performance Curated by: Sumangala Damodaran, Tina Schouw and Ari Sitas

Performance Visual: Piya Sen

CD Curated by: Vivek Narayanan, Michael Nixon, Tina Schouw and Ari Sitas

Project Management: Tinashe Kushata, Aderinsola Adebulehin

THE IDEA

Insurrections was conceived and initiated by Ari Sitas, Sumangala Damodaran, Sazi Dlamini and Neo Muyanga in 2011, to open a conversation between the imaginations of Indian and South African writers and musicians. The idea was to articulate our dismay and rage about our globally dark present, and to address the inadequacy of political expression in our times.

This was not to be a glib declaration of commonalities already given but an ongoing method of discovery. The first two Insurrections were compendia of individual songs; they gave us the exhilaration of knowing that such communication was indeed possible, that it could be deep and full of surprises for all of us. For the third, the question was how to develop a single, long-form text to address the historical moment we find ourselves in.

Click here to purchase Insurrections III: The Storming online

The Tempest—Shakespeare’s, Aimé Césaire’s, and Dev Virahsawmy’s Toufann—served as a template to build The Storming around.

We didn’t feel beholden to Césaire’s and Shakespeare’s text, but we broke it, used it as a palimpsest to remould an alternate landscape: an agitated landscape of both place and an increasingly disenfranchised people. The plot of the play seemed to drive its meaning in directions we could not identify with, but we found possibilities in character: “Prosperus” (in our version) an emblem of power in all its complexity, violence and vulnerability; “Ariela” and “Calibana”, different strategies to deal with oppression, but linked, by blood and ancestral deities, to each other.

Working in a non-linear way, the project’s wordsmiths wrote poems, songs and snatches of dialogue— providing the soil of Malayalam, Zulu and Hindi where we could—that could be merged and remixed into a whole, and then remixed again in the tones and modes the musicians gave to it.

What emerged is there for you to hear and see: something perhaps darkly appropriate for our times. We realise all too clearly our powerlessness at this moment in history, with the forces of aggressive capitalism and ethnic majoritarian nationalisms in a happy marriage, on a winning streak; and yet we find this knowledge of inadequacy to be something that we instinctively share across our various locations. In that shared knowledge, which is also memory, there is unexpected power. And what we share too is a dream of now-forbidden places, of hope that we will not, cannot let go of, even if we wanted to.

Biographies

AHSAN ALI (Sarangi)

Ahsan Ali is from the seventh generation of musicians from a traditional musical family of the Kirana Gharana. Trained from the age of seven by his father Ustad Asif Ali Khan, Ahsan is a part of a band called Hum Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, the Chinese-American cellist. Having travelled extensively to various Festivals of India and several others, Ahsan has worked in many genres like Sufi, Gospel and Jazz.

BRYDON BOLTON (Double Bass)

Brydon is a virtuoso double bassist, music educator, sound artist, curator of music and sound events, composer of contemporary classical music, and a sound designer for dance and theatre performances.He is a defining member of the Benguela ensemble. Brydon’s performing and composing and playing ability, from the romantic to the atonal, made him an essential cog in the distinctive sound of the Insurrections project.

JURGEN BRAUNINGER (Elecronica, Composition)

Jürgen is the University of KwaZulu-Natal Music Discipline’s art music composition guru and electronics specialist anywhere from Stockhausen to Zappa and African tonalities. He has composed for numerous orchestras, ensembles and electronic media. He has written music for the Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre and for film and was one of the first to put to music some of Ari’s early poems. His Durban Noise and Scraps Works is a celebrated CD of new South African music.

SUMANGALA DAMODARAN (Vocals, Composition)

Singer extraordinaire, composer and economist. Classically trained in Carnatic and Hindustani music, she has spent the last decade collecting the musical compositions of India’s anti-colonial and working-class music from a tradition known as the Indian People’s Theatre Association. She has sung and composed for the theatre, is currently composing music for the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and completing her book on the aesthetics of the “Radical Impulse”. It was her meeting with South African poet Ari Sitas that started the Indo-African collaboration of Insurrections.

SAZI DLAMINI (Guitar, Mbira, Bows, Flutes, Vocals and Composition)

Sazi Dlamini is founder of SKOKIANA, an extended township music performance project active since 1991 involving small and big band ensembles, and for which he composes music reflecting his diverse sources of influence. These include jazz, popular and traditional music of Africa and the world.Primarily a guitarist, he has recorded many original pieces of music employing self-made indigenous Nguni and other African musical instruments. Besides involvement in all Insurrections incarnations his composition, performance and collaborative credits include Jiwe [2010], Ikhaya on Wooden Shoes [2010], Skokiana [2011], Makhalafukwe [2013], and Qob’uqalo [2014]. Sazi Dlamini is presently a lecturer and music researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

PRITAM GHOSAL (Sarod, Composition)

The sarod’s new genius, Pritam has worked extensively with Sufi Musician and singer Madan Gopal Singh in his ChaarYaar ensemble and was key in Sumangala’s attempt to rework the musical traditions of India’s resistance providing textured renditions of the 1940s and 1950s compositions. He is a remarkable composer in his own right, an improviser and soloist- at home with classical and contemporary music. He is also a part of the experimental Indian-Belgian trio called Kurta Environment.

REZA KHOTA (Guitar, Composition)

From as early as age ten, Reza has studied rock and classical guitar as well as chord theory. He went on to study classical guitar and improvisation with Faizel Boorany, who fired his enthusiasm for experimental jazz, the classical avant-garde and progressive guitar music. Reza has studied under the likes of David Hewitt, Norwegian guitarist Vergard Lund and the Australian crossover guitarist/composer Helmut Jasbar. Reza has won numerous awards for his exquisite talent. Reza is a guitarist with a distinct voice, viewing the guitar as a miniature orchestra. He performs with an unconventional musicality and technical facility that recalls the rich history of the instrument. His latest CD (2014) is Transmutation.

NCEBAKAZI MNUKWANA (Percussion, Bows and Voice)

Ncebakazi is a music educator who spends most of her days training music teachers, teaching ethnomusicology and World at the Konservatorium at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Ncebakazi spent three years in Oslo, Norway being a recipient of a multicultural education academic scholarship whilst also working as the musical director of Inkululeko, a choral ensemble formed by the South African political exiles in Oslo Norway. She is currently reading for her PHD at the University of Cape Town with a special focus in umngqokolo, the overtone singing of Xhosa-speaking adolescent girls. She is an active member of the Cape Cultural Collective, where she sings and is an indigenous instrumental soundscaper for uHadi. Mnukwana is currently a board member for the Fundamentals Training Centre, Mowbray Cape Town. 

VIVEK NARAYANAN (Lyrics)

Poet and historian, Vivek had spent time in South Africa and did not need much goading in joining Sabitha and Ari to construct the wordscapes of the project. His work has been at the forefront of a new sensibility of radical poetry, conscious of the West’s hip-hop traditions, South Africa’s kwaito and diasporic Indian forms.

MALIKA NDLOVU (Lyrics)

Award winning dramatist, playwright, performer and poet, Malika has been active as a curator for poetry festivals and projects. She has four of her own poetry anthologies, besides her work being featured in several local and international publications. Malika is a founder-member of the Cape Town-based women writers’ collective WEAVE, co-editor of their multi-genre anthology WEAVE’s Ink @ Boiling Point: A selection of 21st Century Black Women’s writing from the Southern Tip of Africa.

MICHAEL NIXON (Veena)

Michael is a performer of South Indian classical and experimental music and lectures in ethnomusicology and African music at the University of Cape Town. He studied with two outstanding musicians in Veena Dhanammal’s bani, Srimati Savithri Rajan and Dr. T Viswanathan. At UCT he also curates the Kirby Collection of Musical Instruments. He has worked in sound archiving, and also published on South Indian and African music.

PAKI PELOEOLE (Drums, Voice)

Kgosietsile “Paki” Peloeole is an extraordinary drummer who started playing indigenous Pedi drums for diviners’ ceremonies at a young age and subsequently trained towards a professional drumming career. Paki has appeared in countless concerts around South Africa supporting many illustrious contemporary South African jazz icons, among them the late Busi Mhlongo, Gloria Bosman, Bheki Khoza, Jimmy Dludlu, McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Andile Yenana, Sazi Dlamini, Feya Faku, and many more. With different productions and ensembles, he has toured Europe and the Caribbean.

SABITHA T.P (Lyrics)

Sabitha is one of the powerful new generation of poets in India, having been raised in a creative family of writers and poets. She teaches literature at Delhi University, is currently pursuing a PhD from the UK and has been a voice, both in Malayalam and English, against class, caste and gender exploitation through her expressionist poetry. Her work has been about poetry, dialogues between multiple poetic traditions and poets, travel, and struggles of people in both urban and rural India.

TINA SCHOUW (Guitar, Vocals and Composition)

Tina is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and author who performs extensively locally and internationally. She has produced and staged her own shows, as well as collaborated with various artists on different productions in South Africa. Her music draws on an eclectic blend of styles including, folk, jazz, latin and contemporary. She grew up in a jazz family. Her father was one of the Cape’s legendary guitarists and Tina has been exploring the Khoisan, and Slave roots of music whilst becoming one of the main voices of the mass democratic movement of the 1980s. She has released three CDs one of which is a remarkable children’s compilation.

PRIYA SEN (Visuals)

Priya Sen works as a filmmaker and artist and is currently based in New Delhi. She works with video and sound as formal experiments; as essay, poetry, correspondence, annotation and music. Her work often tends to be situated within the politics and poetics of resilience in shifting urban landscapes, and she is interested in exploring vocabularies with which to respond. She worked with experimental media at Sarai-CSDS in Delhi, with the Cybermohalla project and the Sarai Media Lab, and has taught film at the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore. She has been at residencies at Gasworks and Nottingham Contemporary in the UK, and at the Khoj Studios in Delhi. Her films have screened at venues nationally and internationally including at the BFI London Film Festival, Forum Expanded at the Berlinale, and the Serpentine Gallery.

ARI SITAS (Lyrics, Voice)

Poet, dramatist and sociologist. Ari is a vital force in South Africa’s cultural life. That he is re-designing the landscape of South Africa’s Humanities in the country’s higher education system is the kind of minor project he might fall into occasionally. It was his poetry, especially Slave Trades, and its musical texture, that convinced Sumangala that something could be done between the two countries. Ari, often in Delhi, met the innovators of modern Indian music, the Sufi philosopher and performer Madan Gopal Singh, the guitarist Susmit Sen, the poets and dramatists of Delhi and threw his energy into this collaboration.

MBALI VILAKAZI (Lyrics. Vocals)

Mbali Vilakazi is an award-winning South African poet, performer, curator and speaker. Her dynamic style and collaborative approach is intentionally experimental. Seeking to expand the language of text, her work is concerned with exploring a socially engaged, multidisciplinary performance poetry aesthetic. She aims to create cutting edge work that renegotiates the way in which poetry is experienced. Her awards include a silver medal for South Africa at the 2009 Delphic Games, a gold medal at the 2012 NPR poetry games and a Mbokodo Women in Arts Award 2015 for Poetry. She believes what is sacred is worth protecting.

Illustration from the catalogue by Stephane Conradie

MOVEMENTS

The Action of The S t o r m i n g

MOVEMENT 1

The shipwreck – the unmaking –debris of the past—not

all is lost. Governing raga: Yaman

The sailors sing of the storm and they blame each other.

The daughter’s pleas. Duet of ARIELA and CALIBANA,

the deities of the water invoked. The chorus of the

slaves to the master – “Toss us a bone…”

What is wealth and might

When lightning bends the shaft

And the swell cracks the keel

What is your magic touch

Be kind to the dying

And to the dead

Yey omo eja mother whose children are the fish.

MOVEMENT 2

The new dispensation. This is how it is.

PROSPERUS vs. CALIBANA vs. ARIELA. Governing

raga: Bhairav. (Self-) praise poem to PROSPERUS. Too

late for ARIELA to claim her freedom. PROSPERUS

in search of progeny: he will give it all up and get

religion. CALIBANA’s curse. Her bitter prisoner’s song.

CALIBANA vs. ARIELA: rival visions of present and

Future.

PROSPERUS:

I made this place, from when it was a swamp

Look at it! To these vistas of gold and steel and glass—

I made the trains, the highways, the temples, the

beachside resorts

with a pocketful of rupee and rand and my engineering

books

But I have been searching deep inside to find my truest

light

Ohhhmmm…

I am the purest raga!

CALIBANA:

Why should I not

Burn down your school

Emasculate your teachers?

ARIELA:

Whilst you were sleeping in the arms of morning

As the birds sang the sun into the day…

MOVEMENT 3

Bones – What remains – The landscape bled dry &

nothing more to give. Dominant raga: Isicathama blue

Dream duet of CALIBANA and her mother. ARIELA and

her desolate landscape of bones. The song of many

struggles. The small cell and the big cell.

ARIELA:

we are the bones

the macerated broken violated bones

the measured itemised

categorized bones

CALIBANA’S MOTHER:

the earth has turned red Calibana don’t you see

the iron ore mines have killed us dead

and no, we shall no longer be led

let us grow mangoes on factory floors

MOVEMENT 4

Celebration song of love and desire – black skin

white mask, white skin black mask, blue skin saffron.

Governing raga: Mohanam.

The wedding of the morons. The song to hyperconsumerism

of the mall rats. Dreams of the forbidden

landscape. Powering up the waves.

Glittering leather-shoes of the mall rat

Tinkling chatter of the mall rats

let us dream you forbidden landscape even if in these

streets you will not be spoken.

Last updated : 16-Aug-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 03-May-2017

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