Soundstreams continues its 34th season with “Music of the Rainbow Nation” at Koerner Hall next Wednesday. The evening explores Canadian and South African cultural identity featuring celebrated South African actors Kim Sanssoucie and Batsile Ramasodi, Juno award-winning vocalist Lorraine Klaasen, The Rainbow Chorus, rising opera star Justin Hopkins, and a brilliant percussion ensemble led by Ryan Scott.
The idea for a concert inspired by the ideals of post-Apartheid South Africa was planted when Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney first heard The Nelson Mandela University Choir sing in Argentina back in 2011. He was taken by the sound of South African choral music, and their inclusion of dance as part of their performance. Two years ago, they began to plan for a concert for the 2016-2017 season, which would include other stops in the US with Toronto as the final destination.
Meanwhile, a proposal to increase tuition fees by the South African government gave rise to intense student protests that swept across the country in October of 2015. Two weeks of wide-spread protests finally came to an end with the government’s assurance that fees would not rise. Alas, the government did not keep their word, sparking a new and more intense round of #FeesMustFall protests over the last few months that have effectively shut down university operations.
Despite optimism that the protests would end, the movement persisted and intensified, reflecting the deep-seeded social and racial tensions. As Kim Sanssoucie, one of two South African actors performing in the concert, describes it in an email correspondence: “This issue of the protests is a lot deeper than a corrupt government but a larger historical atrocity of oppression and unfair distribution of wealth.”
The Nelson Mandela University Choir officially cancel their tour in early October, but Soundstreams was quick to put together an impressive new program. It retains the ideals and values of the original concert, while weaving intricate connections between South Africa and Canada, featuring performers who have connections one way or another with the Rainbow Nation.
Coming all the way from Johannesburg, emerging South African actor Kim Sanssoucie, in collaboration with fellow actor and rapper Batsile Ramasodi, will offer dramatic recitations based on Mandela’s journals, which were developed especially for this concert.
A new work entitled “Futile Spells” by Gabriel Dharmoo was commissioned by Soundstreams for the Nelson Mandela University Choir. In their absence, the piece will be premiered by a newly assembled and aptly named “Rainbow Chorus” conducted by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor and David Fallis, featuring members of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. Choral works by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, who was based in Canada for nearly 10 years, will also be performed.
To channel the spirits of traditional South African township music, South African-Canadian singer Lorraine Klaasen and her instrumental ensemble will perform the music of singer and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba. African-Canadian Bass-Baritone Justin Hopkins will also sing a selection from Kurt Weill’s last musical Lost in the Stars: A Musical Tragedy (1949) based on Alan Paton’s novel “Cry the Beloved Country”, which takes place in Apartheid South Africa.
Last but not least on the program is a percussion quartet led by none other than Ryan Scott along with Michelle Colton, Alejandro Céspedes and Daniel Morphy, to give a dazzling performance of Abhaya by Kevin Volans, who had left South Africa as a white South African in protest of the Apartheid state.
This program is rich with cultural, personal and historical connections between Canada and South Africa. It is also a timely reminder that our dreams are as powerful as they are fragile. This evening will be as much an affirmation as it is an inspiration for those whose dreams have recently taken a disturbing turn.
As Cherney reflected in conversation, “The dream is only partially realized. You can’t change attitudes quickly. You can’t change race relations overnight. It’s a program that celebrates, not about how great we are now, but where are we now, and where would we like to be.”
Don’t miss “Music of the Rainbow Nation: A Tribute to Nelson Mandela’s Dream” on November 23, 2016, at Koerner Hall. Ahead of the concert, explore vocal techniques from around the world with members of the Rainbow Chorus at Soundstreams’ “Vibrant Voices” Salon 21 on Friday, November 18 at the Gardiner Museum.