BEIT MERY, Lebanon: Mozart compositions and African songs will echo through the Emile Bustani Auditorium Friday evening. Staged as part of the Al-Bustan Festival, the concert will feature the instrumental-vocal ensemble MoZuluArt, who promise to present a sample of their unique blend of hybridity.
Founded in 2005, MoZuluArt – vocalist-percussionist Ramadu, vocalists Vusa Mkhaya Ndlovu and Blessings Nqo Nkomo, and pianist Roland Guggenbichler – will perform a series of original works, mingled with a selection of Mozart’s well-known melodies. The Daily Star got together to chat with Mkhaya Ndlovu, Nqo Nkomo and Guggenbichler about their project.
Q: How was MoZuluArt founded?
RG: We were part of a group of blues musicians in Holland ... living in Vienna. I was the keyboard player of the band. The first time we played together was for a celebration in Vienna. There was a film presentation for the end of the apartheid in South Africa. They needed a mixed group from South Africa ... I’m not from there and my friends are from Zimbabwe, but it was fine in South Africa.
During three days we started to compose music. This is how it all came together ... We were doing “a cappella” singing and we found out that this combination with piano will eventually come out.
In 2006, we were invited to participate at the opening of a big festival in Vienna. We were performing with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra ... People from [the VSO] have been with us since then [and] some members of the orchestra with us [for Friday’s performance].
Q: African music is quite unlike Western classical composition. How did you come up with this idea of combining the two, and why Mozart?
VMN: Mozart because we live in Vienna and there is no way you can avoid Mozart. The world is becoming a global village. So, mixing these two types of music is easier for us to get the African music and the other one too.
The audience that could not have interest in classical music can have access to it now and identify [with] it. Some people don’t expect or imagine that it can work. And I think we did a good job because we’re trying to mix the music styles without taking out from each style. It’s not like we are taking a lot from African music or a lot from classical music. We just blend both styles in a nice way.
Q: Which bits of Mozart will you be playing?
RG: We have one piece that, until now, is our most popular piece. It is called “Bheka Kimi.” It is based on Mozart’s “Rondo in D major,” the piano piece. It was mainly Blessings’ idea to put them together and this song was popular in Austria. Austrian TV made a 10-minute documentary just about [it].
Then, there is the “Sonata in A Major,” which was Vusa’s contribution. We have our version of an “Aria” from “The Magic Flute.” We took several pieces and arranged them in our style.
Q: Which African songs will you be singing?
BNN: There will be songs from Zimbabwe and also from our own compositions. They are combined. The idea is to mix.
VMN: Our own compositions are based on traditional sound, and in male “a cappella” style. We also took traditional songs we adapted and changed a little bit to fit into [this project].
BNN: And [there are] also songs from South Africa.
RG: Many people, when they think of African music, they think of drums. Which is true to some extent, but the music they grew up with was “a cappella” singing.
VMN: In Zimbabwe there are some instruments, but the instrument that is present in everyday life is the voice. The first thing that comes into mind is singing and then something else. In Africa, people play mostly djembe or kora and then they sing. But for us it’s different. You don’t need instruments to make music.
People have songs to wake up or to pray. There is no singing instrument. This is our tradition and this is where we come from. When we started to play in Europe, sometimes it took time to follow the system. We are coming from a traditional [world]. You can stay 10 or 15 minutes with no structure. Our music is like the Lebanese way of driving. You get there, but you don’t know how.
Q: How do you feel about your first performance in Lebanon?
RG: It’s a festival of classical music. We are outsiders. The audience is not sure of what to expect [from us]. In the end it all works out.
[We] really enjoy playing in a place where people don’t know us. People think that a combination of African rhythms and classical music is hard. So far, however, we have convinced most people.
BNN: It’s really exciting. Our songs deal with themes like love, war and peace. People can identify with these songs.
MoZuluArt is performing Friday at the Emile Bustani Auditorium as part of Festival Al-Bustan. For more information and tickets, please call 04-972-980.