Supporting our local singers—celebrating the music of Reuben T. Caluza (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 17)

This is the seventeenth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH

 

Influenza 1918 (collaborative music and video project, initiated by Philip Miller)

 

Supporting our local singers—celebrating the music of Reuben T. Caluza

By Philip Miller

 

 

Choral music notation for the song “Influenza” (courtesy of  Howard Phillips, In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa, 2018)

I am a South African composer who has embarked upon a project to assist funding singers and musicians who are currently unable to work and earn money during this period of the COVID 19 lock –down.

After recently reading an article written by Mark Gevisser (The Monthly Review, Business Day, April 7, 2020) I discovered the song “Influenza” from 1918, composed by Reuben T. Caluza, during a period when the Spanish Flu had taken the lives of so many people in South Africa and the rest of the world. After much research, I tracked down an old recording of the song, which was made in 1920. In the past few weeks of South Africa’s lock-down, I transcribed it and made an arrangement of this song for voice, piano, and brass.

 

Zulu choral conductor, composer, and teacher Reuben T. Caluza (1895-1964), photographer unknown

I brought together a team of young vocalists, with whom I have collaborated over a period of several decades. They have recorded the song in Zulu, each vocalist recording in their own home and then sending these as voice-messages for me to incorporate into a new rendition of the song. It is my response to the Covid -19 Pandemic.

Assembling all these voices and musicians together, I produced this song as an audio mp3 and music video available to download via many different social media platforms, including; Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, Soundcloud and Spotify.

Highlighting the interesting parallels between the origins of the song during the Spanish Flu epidemic in South Africa in 1918 and the Covid 19 pandemic, I am also focusing on creating awareness of the difficult financial circumstances which freelance musicians and singers are currently facing. The ensemble of singers who participated in creating this song, rely entirely on live musical productions and gigs to support themselves and their families. This stream of income has abruptly stopped, due to productions and performances being cancelled or postponed, leaving them with no income.

The eight singers who participated in the recording of the song are based in the areas of Masiphumelele, Gugulethu, Langa and Soweto:

Ann Masina (soprano)

Thuli Magubane (soprano)

Lydia Manyame   ( alto)

Lulama Mgceleza (tenor)

Masibulele Malima (tenor)

Lubabalo Velayi ( bass)

Bulelani Madondile ( baritone)

Reuben Mbonambi (bass)

The Campaign went live on May 1, 2020 using the on-line platform, BUSQR, where donations can be made into the relief fund #MusoReliefSA. All funds raised will be distributed amongst the community of local South African singers and musicians, who I have worked with over many years.

https://busqr.co.za/streamer/philip-miller/

 

Philip Miller is a South African and international composer and sound artist based in Cape Town.  His work is multi-faceted, often developing out of collaborative projects in theatre, film, video and sound installations. Miller is currently an honorary fellow at ARC (The Research Initiative in Archive and Public Culture) at the University of Cape Town
May 13th, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Interface

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020, Tom

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020, Tom

Bernard Stiegler, quoted from The Neganthropocene (trans. Daniel Ross): “Does anyone really believe that it is possible to ‘solve’ the problems of climate change, habitat destruction and cultural destruction without addressing the consumerist basis of the present macro-economic system, or vice versa, or without addressing the way in which this system depletes the psychic energy required to find the collective will, belief, hope and reason to address this planetary challenge? Can this consumerism really survive the coming wave of automation that threatens to decimate its customer base and undermine the ‘consumer confidence’ that is fundamental to its perpetual growth requirements, themselves antithetical, once again, to the problems of biospherical preservation?”

August 14th, 2020, Tom
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