Mandla Mlangeni joins the CPO and other performers to present Oratorio Of A Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections On The Youth Of ’76. PETA STEWART finds out more:
When you are dealing with the trauma that comes from seeing your father killed in front of your eyes, it’s a miracle that jazz trumpeter, composer, bandleader, teacher and Standard Bank jazz artist for 2019 Mandla Mlangeni can function on a daily basis. But function he does and at an extremely high level. Mlangeni’s current project, Oratorio Of A Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections On The Youth Of ’76 was premiered at the Artscape Theatre in 2016 and is coming back by popular demand to Artscape Opera in Cape Town on 15 June 2019. Guest artists include the musicians of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.
Performing with Mandla Mlangeni is the critically acclaimed Amandla Freedom Ensemble and the collaboration is as exciting for the Cape Town Philharmonic as it is for the ensemble! The collaboration, the first for the CPO, “debunks the myth that classically trained musicians are stuck in a formal mould and not adaptable to other genres,” says CEO of the CPO Louis Heyneman. “We are an orchestra for all seasons and therefore bringing seemingly opposing musical forms together is part of who we are.”
The project also includes the Gugulethu Voices Choir and acclaimed playwright and poet Koleka Putuma, who has contributed the libretto. It is anchored by the Amandla Freedom Ensemble musically and is an audacious project to create new narratives with choral renditions on the struggles of the past, all the time interspersed with the perplexities of the present while looking to the future.
According to Mlangeni, “Louis Heyneman and I have been in constant discussion on how to build new audiences by combining our collective voices. It’s an important move as our country is in constant flux and needs us as artists to be visionaries by embracing the old and the new by constantly trying to reimagine ourselves. I define myself as a musician who is constantly trying to push beyond my comfort zones by collaborating with the strongest musical forces in the country, forces such as the CPO which is an established institution that has nurtured the careers of many musicians.”
That Mlangeni was shaped by the past is evident when you realise that his father Bheki Mlangeni, an activist and human rights lawyer who uncovered the atrocities of Vlakplaas, paid the ultimate price.
Mlangeni is positive, despite this.
“With all its troubles, South Africa has changed for the better. A greater majority of its people are enjoying the fruits of freedom – but more needs to be done. The change may be slow, but the challenge is up to us to create the world we want to see. I see the staging of Oratorio Of A Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections On The Youth Of ’76 as a small but meaningful way where we as South Africans can deliberate on the momentous change that the youth of ‘76 catapulted us into. The quest for universal human rights, the freedom of association and human dignity remains as paramount today is it was then.”
Mandla has steadily built a name himself and sees his ultimate contribution to society as one of service to the community at large, creating avenues where free expression can be nurtured and cultivated. Raised in Soweto, Mlangeni studied at the National School of the Arts and graduated from UCT with a B.Mus in Composition and Arrangement.
The journey has had its twists and turns. He cites “the many inherent challenges such as access to spaces to make music and a lack of resources”. His resolve and commitment to improve himself has been slow and steady. From the time he took up the trumpet because “he thought it was easy”, doors he couldn’t otherwise have imagined have opened to him. And more doors will open because in any event, he says, “I am still learning the trumpet!”
He has performed in countries including Norway, Sweden, Germany, Kenya and Singapore as well all the major South African jazz festivals. Although classically trained, he performs in many genres from classical and jazz to pop, Balkan and indigenous African music.
As a strong believer in giving back, he taught music as a student volunteer at Manenberg and Alexander Sinton high schools. Community music remains at the core Mlangeni’s objectives. He has performed with musicians like Susana Baca, David Murray, Khaya Mahlangu, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Thandiswa Mazwai and Dizu Plaatjies. He has also perfomed with bands such as the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra, The Ghoema Orchestra and the UCT Big Band. He toured Germany with the MIAGI Youth Orchestra and the UK and Europe with Cape Town Opera’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
What: Oratorio Of A Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections On The Youth Of ’76
Where and when: Artscape Opera on 15 June 2019
Book: Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 021 421 7695