Deutsche Welle's and the Beethovenfest's Campus Project attracts young artists from all over the world to Bonn. This year features an exchange between South Africa and Germany — both cultures should get closer musically.
For almost two decades now, DW and the Beethovenfest Bonn have been working together on the "Campus Project" — a workshop and concert format that brings young musicians from all over the world to Bonn for a dialogue with young German artists concentrating on Beethoven's work. China, Mexico, Ukraine, India: these have been the campus "stations" of recent years.
In 2019, we go to South Africa. The focus this time is on two a cappella formations — Just 6 from Johannesburg and Sjaella from Leipzig. Together with the German National Youth Orchestra, both ensembles will perform a program that brings the cultures of southern Africa and Old Europe closer together.
Just 6 and Sjaella: Love at first sight
Just like dancing, whether in everyday play among children or at festive gatherings, singing together is an inseparable part of social life in South Africa. So this year, the human voice was the starting point for the Campus Project. The six young singers of Just 6 were juxtaposed with the six singers of the group Sjaella (derived from the Swedish word "sjael" for soul) from Leipzig.
Things sparked at the first encounter already in Johannesburg in August 2019. "They immediately fell in love," people surrounding the project said. The young vocalists from Germany and South Africa had just met for the first time when they began to sing and improvise together. African beats met Northern European folk, the "Traditionals," or spiritual songs from the Middle Ages.
All this together resulted in new and fascinating harmonies. "Although the Sjaella women are trained in the classical tradition and Just 6 sing by ear, they simply fit together incredibly well musically," said Thomas Scheider, Campus Project manager for the Beethovenfest.
"From the beginning they were fascinated by each other, by their different musical backgrounds," said Schneider. "Just 6 was mesmerized by the technical perfection of the women — and the women by the soft, silky sound of the boys singing everything by ear."
"The great thing is that they complement each other perfectly in terms of sound, as if they had been singing together forever," Scheider added. Another way the groups were in sync with each other: to bridge the waiting periods between rehearsals, Sjaella and Just 6 taught each other folk songs from their respective cultures. It is unforgettable how the six young men from Just 6 sang "The Moon Has Risen" with devotion in the finest German. The Sjaella women tried their best in the South African language Xhosa.
Expectations running high
As the groups worked together more, expectations of the cooperation increased, so it was not easy to select further works for the Campus concert. Looking back, it was only after overcoming of the apartheid system that a transition from a confrontation of South African and European culture to a mutual understanding was really possible.
Still, in the past, there were intercultural wedges that could be driven into the seemingly solid political walls of isolation. For instance, when the Briton William Walton focused on his commissioned work for the Johannesburg Festival in 1954, he ordered numerous audio recordings from the archives of the African Music Society. And so the swinging song "Masanga" by Jean Bosco Mwenda resonates in the "somewhat crazy non-stop gallop," as Walton characterized his overture. Conversely, Michael Mosoeu Moreane, who was the first South African composer to carve a global career, had already condensed the war, work and lullaby songs of his homeland into the symphonic work "Fatse la Heso" (My Country) in 1941.
The musicians of the German National Youth Orchestra worked on the Campus program with great enthusiasm — especially after their concert tour to South Africa in August 2019. "It is an impressive experience to come into contact with the rich musical culture of southern Africa," said project manager Sönke Lentz. "Powerful, emphatic, original, cheerful and open" are the influences infused in the music, said Lentz — whether the pieces remain close to the original (as in the songs for Miriam Makeba) or are artistically interpreted (as in the works by Walton or Moerane). South Africa has impressed the young people of the German National Youth Orchestra as a land of diversity, beauty, but also of differences and conflicts.
'Birth of Change' in Bonn
Influenced by Michael Mosoeu Moeane, the 29-year-old South African composer Tshepo Tsotetsi was commissioned to compose for the Campus project. Tsotetsi is a multi-talent: He plays the saxophone, is arranger, conductor and also founder and artistic director of the Miagi New Skool Orchestra. The ensemble is made up of musicians and composers from the fields of jazz and classical music, who are very strongly related to their ethnic roots.
"Birth of Change" is the name of the work Tsotetsi wrote for DW. The premiere will take place on September 12 in Bonn.
"I always refer to my music as "New Skool," explained Tsotetsi in an interview with DW. "We try to create something new — with the same old instruments, with the same musicians. Only the perspective changes. It is our duty as composers and artists to describe our attitude to life and our experiences as young people."