A collaboration with SDASA Chorale from Soweto, South Africa

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Notes on the music

Trad. South African – eGolgotha (at Golgotha)
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South Africans of almost all backgrounds sing hymns, but African hymnody is immediately identifiable through its robust voice production, typically African call-and-response figures, ‘blue’ notes and undeniable swing. The SDASA Chorale regards this popular hymn as one of its signature tunes.

William Cornyshe (d.1523) arr. SDASA Chorale / Roderick Williams – Ah Robin
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In many ways, this piece marked the start of the creative relationship that ultimately resulted in the recording of this album. After hearing I Fagiolini sing this rather hypnotic 16th-century English round, the SDASA Chorale improvised its own lover’s lament in the style of traditional Zulu chant and then superimposed it on the original. Bheka, who chants the lament, says that “somewhere, somehow, there are chords in the English piece that are similar to Zulu traditional music.” Tracing such unexpected points of convergence became a highly stimulating aspect of the exchange project.

Mokale Koapeng (b.1963) / Roderick Williams (b.1965) – Khutsho

Mokale composed this heartfelt chant for peace in 1988, after years of intense political oppression and resistance in South Africa with no end in sight. When he introduced the piece during one of the first sessions that the two groups spent together, Roddy was moved to write a part for I Fagiolini that would combine Mokale’s piece with another chant for peace with a text from the heart of the Western liturgy, the ‘Agnus Dei’.

Monkitsi Seoketsa (b.1966) – U Jehova

Monkitsi is a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist church and a composer of marvellous contemporary African church music. The SDASA Chorale has been singing this setting of Psalm 23 for some years now, and everywhere we went during the exchange project, the younger members of the congregation recognized it, waved their hands and joined in. I Fagiolini impressed everyone by arriving in South Africa having learned the hymn in Zulu, and so were invited to sing the opening verse alone – always a surprise for the congregation.

Monkitsi Seoketsa – Dumisa (Praise)

Monkitsi says that he composed this praise song “to give thanks; thanks for, amongst so many other things, the opportunity of collaborating with I Fagiolini.” The almost understated choral backing and the soloist’s impassioned vocals are masterfully combined in a simple and sincere statement of faith.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) / Roderick Williams – O clap your hands
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Having spent time listening to recordings of the SDASA Chorale before coming to South Africa, Roddy had the ambitious idea of combining African hymnody with Gibbons’ lively eight-part motet setting of Psalm 47. This was a piece that took the SDASA Chorale deep into unfamiliar musical territory, but they rose to the occasion admirably and affirmed the Psalmists’ claim: “God is gone up with a merry noise.”

Mokale Koapeng – Kgosietsile (Kingdom Come)

Perhaps the most eclectic of the SDASA Chorale’s resident composers, Mokale combines his interest in international gospel and jazz styles with a deep love of indigenous African music. He has based this swinging setting of the Lord’s Prayer on a shifting whole-tone bass pattern that is typical of traditional Xhosa music. Above this, he has written a sophisticated blend of parts that exploits the respective vocal idioms of I Fagiolini and the SDASA Chorale.

Trad. Cornish – The trees they grow so high

Although the sacred music of Britain and South Africa was central to this project, the composers within the two groups became increasingly interested in the folk roots of one another’s repertories. The purity of Carys’ performance of this bittersweet Cornish folksong clearly touched the SDASA Chorale when she sang it to them, and was reciprocated when I Fagiolini heard Bheka’s renditions of Zulu folksong.

Trad. Zulu arr. Dlamini (b.1965) – Kwa Zulu senzeni? (Kwa Zulu, what’s our crime?)

When we were preparing for the exchange project, I Fagiolini asked whether the SDASA Chorale knew of any traditional African chant which could be compared with Gregorian chant. Mokale immediately thought of Zulu amahubo music, and played us an example which had been recorded by the revered Princess Magogo (mother of Chief Buthelezi) in the 1970s. I Fagiolini was fascinated by the recording and Bheka decided to make an arrangement of the chant that could be sung by both groups.

Bheka says: “That tape took me back home and reminded me of the olden days, those terrible days, which saw the destruction of the Zulu nation.” It is indeed about the destruction of Shaka’s nation that Princess Magogo was singing, and so I asked Bheka why he wanted to sing the song with a group of English men and women, descendents of an empire that played such an active role in that process. “They liked the song,” he replied, “and I thought that it would be nice to sing it together; it would show unity. We can all share our fruit of life.”

Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) / Roderick Williams – Douce dame jolie
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Everyone agreed that Machaut’s beautiful 14th-century melody would provide suitable material to work with, but no-one anticipated what Roddy wanted to do with it. In his own words: “I thought that, coming to Africa, it would be interesting to work with the types of processes that one finds in African drumming, and to relate this to contemporary ideas in so-called ‘pattern music’ which have become so widespread in Western music since the 1960s.”

Trad.South African – Vela! (Come!)

The two groups used this lively community song to introduce one another at their township performances. Meaning simply “Come, we want to see you, we are SDASA Chorale/I Fagiolini”, the unexpected “vela” sung by I Fagiolini aroused a lot of excitement from the audience.

John Sheppard (c.1515-c.1559) – Libera nos

Both groups are devoted fans of one another, but developed special preferences during their time together; the SDASA Chorale fell in love (musically!) with I Fagiolini’s sopranos and I Fagiolini became particularly attached to the SDASA Chorale’s bass voices. For this piece, the latter simply sang the plainchant-derived bass part of Sheppard’s sublime polyphony with I Fagiolini singing the upper voices.

Plainchant arr.Koapeng/I Fagiolini – Te lucis ante terminum

When I Fagiolini sent us a transcription of this timeless Gregorian melody, Mokale says that he set out to “approach the plainchant from a typically African perspective”. Both the Tswana text and the music could be described as a free paraphrase of the original.

Bheka Dlamani – Uma ngimbona Lomsindisi

One of the joys of the SDASA Chorale’s music is the variety of African styles that the group employs for use in church. This piece combines a gospel text with the delightful isicathamiya style of singing, which developed among male migrant workers in the mine compounds of South Africa during the first half of the 20th century (made internationally famous by the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo). A neo-traditional style that combines both indigenous and imported elements, it is accompanied by a whole repertoire of movements and gestures in live performance.

No Night There / Akukho Ubusuku Le!

English missionaries must have brought this Victorian hymn to South Africa some time during the 19th century, but since then, African Christians have made it something entirely their own. Here I Fagiolini sings the hymn in its original form, followed by the version which the members of the SDASA Chorale sing in church today.

Bheka Dlamani – Home

Bheka has written a moving gesture of hope, deliberately combining African and Western languages to express his vision of our common destination. He explains the passage which he composed for I Fagiolini’s sopranos towards the end of the piece as follows: “When you are very tired and hungry after a day of watching over the cattle in the fields and you turn to go home, then you can hear the songs of birds and sweet memories fill your mind. Then I think of the Home where we are going: definitely, sure.”


The SDASA Chorale

Musical director: Mokale Koapeng

The SDASA Chorale is an amateur gospel group which draws its members from the Seventh Day Adventists’ Students Association (SDASA) in Soweto. In recent years it has earned the reputation as one of South Africa’s mostly highly regarded Gospel ensembles. The group was selected as the only South African choir to be featured on the main programme of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in 1996. It has also performed at the Johannesburg Arts Festival alongside the celebrated Wendy Mseleku and Gloria Bosman. SDASA Chorale has performed with Sibongile Khurnalo, Mimi Coertsee and shared stage with some of the well-known musicians in the country like Benjamin Dube and Tshepo Tshola. It has performed all over South Africa including Botswana and Lesotho.

A male-voice ensemble comprising nineteen members, the SDASA Chorale has been in existence for fourteen years and is committed to rendering community service. The group often performs for charities, and has initiated projects like visits to prisons and the upgrading of hostels. It is also involved with educational programmes like the Catch Them Young and Project Sunrise initiatives in Soweto. What distinguishes the group further is the fact that it has a number of talented composers within its ranks. The group’s repertoire includes original compositions by four talented songwriters, all of whom sing in the group as well: G M Mojapelo (regrettably deceased in 1994), Mokale Koapeng, Boyce Monkitsi Seoketsa and Bheka Dlamini. These composers write in widely divergent styles, and the group is renowned for the versatility of its repertoire, while remaining firmly rooted in the bedrock of indigenous church music.

Erato Detour
Released 1999

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