LIFECYCLE for the NGQOKO Women’s Choir and Ensemble of 11

(For flute (piccolo), oboe, clarinet (bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, 2 percussionists, 2 violins, cello, double bass)

The composing of this piece was a process that began with a visit to the Nqoko Village in 2003. I recorded and videod the unique and beautiful ‘overtone’ singing, playing of instruments and dancing. After repeated listenings to the music I transcribed it in part. This original Xhosa music forms the core of this composition.

The themes of the Ngqoko songs gave rise to the title, Lifecycle, which depicts very important aspects and religious and social occasions in the life of the community. I have attempted to facilitate the natural music and abilities of the group and have tried to embrace the spirit intrinsic in the music. The ‘overtone’, ‘split-tone’ or ‘throat’ singing generates earthy and vibrant colours and makes the music of this group of nine women and one man unique and exciting. The singers accompany themselves with three kinds of bows and two drums, namely, the Uhadi (calabash bow), the Umrhubhe (mouth bow), and the Inkinge (friction bow with petrol tin) – the Ugubu (two-sided drum) and the Umasengwane (friction drum).

The piece begins with a brief instrumental introduction which portrays the pastoral character of the village, yet with a gentle underlying energy. The choir enters with a song of thanks to the Ancestors – Nyanyi (I Camagu Livumile). This flows immediately into a Lullaby expressing anxiety about the return of a mother who has gone to collect firewood as her crying baby needs pacifying – not the usual soothing lullaby. After an instrumental link an Initiation song follows – Ikomani with traditional instruments and overtone singing. In this song the young man expresses his preparedness to face circumcision rites as he is ‘already a man’ and does not mind.

The cycle continues with a Marriage song (Makhaya Akudule), which describes a bride that comes from far away and the man coming from a distant land to form a union. This leads instrumentally to a plaintive and heart-rending plea in a song Umyeyezelo by a mother singing with her Uhadi bow about her son who was sent away for initiation – will she ever see him again or will he die?

The work ends with a Magulesinyanga song in which the ‘prophets’ of the community teach the young adults to dance. In this culture death is greeted with quiet silence and no music.