a Celebration to remember

Victor Mecoamere

Victor Mecoamere

South Africa's premier celebration of choral and classical music, the Trasnsnet Foundation, SABC and Sowetan Massed Choir Festival had special highlights among several climaxes this year.

It helped celebrate the showcase's 20th anniversary and the second decade of the Sowetan and Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation's corporate social investment and responsibility programme.

Pioneering festival leaders Mzilikazi Khumalo and Richard Cock were honoured for having moulded the showcase into what it is today.

Young composer Christo Jankowitz, whose piece This Is The Day, inspired by Psalm 118, was also honoured. His runners-up were Sabelo Mthembu with Ongilondolozayo and Evans Netshivhambe with Lotsha.

In April the South African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) Endowment for the National Arts and the Massed Choir Festival's organisers asked emerging choral music composers to enter their work for a commemorative choral composition competition.

But the greatest highlight was the centenary celebration of legendary traditional African choral music composer, arranger and conductor Joshua Polumo Mohapeloa.

Two of Mohapeloa's greatest mass choir renditions, Bonyeli and Linoto, were performed by the Mvezo Community Choir, Chitungwiza Harmony Singers from Zimbabwe, Bonisudumo Choristers, East Rand Chorale, Kathorus Choristers, Mogale City Chorale, Soweto Songsters, Vaal Choristers, African Sweet Melodies, Gauteng SAPS Choir, Mangaung SAPS Choir, Gauteng Choristers, and the SABC, Amazwi KaNtu, GaRankuwa Community Choir, and the Mamelodi Philharmonic Chorus and Shalom Chorale.

These choirs - most of whom were transported at no cost by Putco - also backed the festival's gospel music star Benjamin Dube, Danish vocal music act Papaya, mezzo sopranos Nonhlanhla Yende and Teresa de Wet, bass singers Paul Madibeng and Timothy Matlala, sopranos Pretty Yende and Xoliswa Nogwam, and tenors Monwabisi Lindi and Donald Majosi.

Pianist, conductor, composer and arranger Polumo Joshua Mohapeloa was born in Molumong in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, on March 28 1908.

Young Mohapeloa first attended school at Molumong and then the Morija Training Institute, where he obtained his Junior Certificate in 1927. That was also where he studied under music master EF Pester and was later taught piano by Flore Mabille, a missionary.

Mohapeloa completed matric in 1929 and continued his studies at the South African Native College, which was later known as Fort Hare, in Eastern Cape, where he was introduced to modern African songs.

Later Mohapeloa continued his studies by correspondence with the University of South Africa. He was granted a scholarship to study music at the University of the Witwatersrand from 1938 to 1942 as "an occasional student".

Mohapeloa's scribblings were discovered by his brother, John, a church minister. His first song was Mutlanyana, followed by Sephooko, Motjoli, Nong and Kholontoana.

This led to several seminal collections of Mohapeloa's work, including Melodi Le Lethallere Tsa Afrika (African Melodies in Decorative Counter-Display), consisting of 32 songs, which was published by the Morija Book Depot in 1935.

He continued composing choral songs and incidental music for radio dramas such as Obe, Leeba, Qeu Qeu Majoana, and U ea Kae?

lNotes on Mohapeloa's life in this article are based on information attributed to Dr Yvonne Huskisson, author of Black Composers of Southern Africa.