7 Jun 2023
When the concert was announced, many reacted sceptically. Mixing kwaito from the townships of Southern Africa with classical music from faraway Europe? Even more: Kwaito songs performed together by a classical orchestra, choir and band? But the scepticism proved to be unfounded: Both concert evenings in Windhoek were sold out and the audience was enthusiastic.
This was certainly also due to the fact that "stars" of both musical genres had mobilised their fans in Namibia: The Namibian National Symphony Orchestra (NNSO) and Namibian pop musician Lazarus Shiimi, known as Gazza (audio sample: 'Penduka'). Classical and kwaito enthusiasts met at the National Theatre of Namibia in Windhoek last weekend in partly simple and casual, partly elegant to daring evening dress.
The programme proved to be just as colourful: At the start the music of the cinema classic 'Pirates of the Caribbean' penned by the German film music composers Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt. Then three pieces by the Namibian composer Osmond !Osoweb for choir and orchestra, followed by the symphonic poem 'Finlandia' by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
The second part of the concert consisted of eleven hits by Gazza, played and sung together by Gazza and his band, the NNSO and the choir 'Vocal Reflections', reinforced by the way by more than 20 students and lecturers of the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). The atmosphere in the hall changed with the style of the music. The signal was given by the South African-born conductor and head of the music department of the ASFA, Alexander Fokkens, who instead of wearing a grey jacket, dashed casually across the stage to his desk in a waistcoat and African-patterned short-sleeved shirt.
Until the interval, classical atmosphere reigned in the hall. The audience listened quietly to the music and waited with applause for each piece until the last note had faded away. The second part, on the other hand, was pure African pop culture. Enthusiastic shrieks when Gazza pranced star-like onto the stage, and every time he performed a particularly cool dance move. Frenetic singing and shouting along to the refrains and raps.
Even conductor Fokkens, who had already gotten out the most out of the orchestra and choir with dynamic movements in the first part, jumped along with the rhythm on his platform during particularly rousing passages. The acoustic icing on the cake: Two solos by the internationally renowned jazz flutist Kim Scott from the USA (audio sample: 'Shine'), adding a few splashes of Afro-American jazz culture to the cocktail of Europe's classical music, Hollywood's film music and Africa's choir and township music.
"Bringing together and connecting completely different musical genres, musicians and audience groups was a risk we took," NNSO chairlady Irmgard Rannersmann told Namibian.org News. But it was worth it: "The feedback was very positive from all sides." And many in the audience would now see and appreciate an orchestra in a completely different way.
Financially, however, it was not as successful. Despite sold-out evenings, the income was not even enough to cover the rent for the National Theatre, technical equipment and instruments as well as other expenses, according to Rannersmann. The Alabama School of Fine Arts bore the costs for its lecturers and students and also paid a large share of the hall rent.
"Neither Gazza nor the orchestra, choir or band benefit financially from these two evenings," says the dedicated NNSO chairlady. "And that is exactly the point why we need sponsors to support us musicians or artists in general." This was clear to everyone involved already in advance. The concert was also meant to point out that culture in Namibia - as in every country - depends on support from the state and the private sector.
Thus, the title of the concert was deliberately formulated as a joint appeal: "Gazza goes symphonic with the NNSO - in a Concert of Hope". Amidst the celebrated Gazza songs, Namibian poet and television presenter Ashwyn Mberi performed and recited his lyrical protest message "We are here", written especially for the occasion.
"Our Message of Hope has come across," declared Irmgard Rannersmann two days after the concert weekend. "Hopefully we can give a little push that the music industry in Namibia is taken seriously and that we all get paid for such projects in the future."
The social interest is there, at any rate. This had already been shown by the successful world premiere of the first Namibian opera 'Chief Hijangua' last September (see our report ), which is now also being performed in Berlin (see our report). Similar is the case with the fusion of classical music with Kwaito and other pop music genres of southern Africa. "As it stands, there will be another concert," Rannersmann enthuses. "Definitely not this year and probably not next year. But for 2025 we could definitely imagine doing something together again."
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