a new Revolting Music in California

The International Studies Public Forum,

UC Humanities Research Institute, and Illuminations Present

Revolting Music

Neo Muyanga

South African musician and co-founder, PanAfrican Space Station
“Revolting Music – A survey of the songs of protest
that liberated South Africa.”

It often comes as something of a surprise to many visitors to find that we, in South Africa, sang and danced throughout the decade of the 1980’s – a period many agree was one of the most violent phases in the struggle against the system of apartheid, and yet we, the people, sang and we made art fervently during this time. These acts were not merely stratagems for fun but the songs were a part of our arsenal in the fight to secure democratic rights for all and to overthrow the government.

During his talk, Neo Muyanga will present a series of anecdotes and medleys of songs of protest from the era of the 80’s – songs of his youth – juxtaposed against new songs he has composed in response to the challenges of new socio-political realities in South Africa Today.

This talk is sponsored by the Institute for International, Global and Regional Studies (IIGARS)



Neo Muyanga was born in Soweto.
He studied the Italian madrigal tradition with choral maestro, Piero Poclen, in Trieste, Italy. In the mid 90’s he co-founded the acoustic pop duo, blk sonshine with Masauko Chipembere, garnering a following throughout southern Africa and internationally. Neo writes music plays, chorus songs and has a variety of works for chamber and large ensemble (his operetta, “the flower of shembe”, premiered to critical acclaim in 2012). He continues to tour widely both as a solo performer and in various band guises. Neo co-founded the pan African space station in 2008 with Chimurenga’s publishing editor, Ntone Edjabe, as a continually evolving host of cutting-edge pan African music and sound art on the internet and across stages in Cape Town and other parts of the globe.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

University of California, Irvine
Social Science Plaza A, Rm 1100

UC Humanities Research Institute | communications | uchri.org

Massa Revoltante video

dear friends, here’s a short film made about our project to connect along themes of
protest and music in the global south, which took place in brazil earlier this year.


love, neo

Heart of Redness

Category: Operas
Next Date: 19 Aug 2015
Time: 19:30
Place: The Fugard Theatre

come see our new production – part opera, part township musical – at the fugard theatre this august.
Wednesday 19, Thursday 20, Friday 21, Saturday 22 @ 19:30
The Fugard
R100, R150, R190
Book at Computicket
In Collaboration with Magnet Theatre
COMPOSER Neo Muyanga
DIRECTOR Mark Fleishman
The young cast which includes Magnet Theatre and UCT drama graduates, and some of the young Cape Town Opera Members, have come together under the direction of Mark Fleishman to create a musical version of the Zakes Mda novel HEART OF REDNESS.
Shortlisted for the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize, HEART OF REDNESS tells a story of South African village life against the backdrop of a notorious episode from the country’s past. Camugu, who left for America during apartheid, has returned to Johannesburg. Disillusioned by the problems of the new democracy, he travels to the remote Eastern Cape where, in the nineteenth century, a teenage prophetess named Nonqawuse commanded the Xhosa people to kill their cattle and burn their crops, promising that once they did so the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive the occupying English into the ocean. The failed prophecy split the Xhosa into Believers and Unbelievers, dividing brother from brother, wife from husband, with devastating consequences. One hundred fifty years later, the two groups’ descendants are at odds over plans to build a vast casino and tourist resort in the village, and Camugu is soon drawn into their heritage and their future

All Dates:

  • 22 Aug 2015
  • 21 Aug 2015
  • 20 Aug 2015
  • 19 Aug 2015

notes from a composer-in-residence june and july 2015

aesthetics in black

talking black music, protest and aesthetics with the likes of mark anthony neal, shana redmond, robin kelley, guthrie ramsey, gayle murchison and tamara levitz was a special moment this june. hosted by the hammer museum in westwood, los angeles, we meandered our way over history, colour, identity, art and politics exploring the threads that bind cultural expression in south africa with what’s unfolding in the united states of america.

we did this around themes examined in my new opera, “the struggle is my life”, as a prism by which to reflect on questions of diversity and transformation (and transcendence) in the practice and performance of opera as a musical art form.

here’s a link to the entire web stream of the event broadcast from the hammer:


i intend to spend more time in california later this year workshopping “the struggle” and other new music theatre works to deepen the thinking around what were are, for the moment, calling “black opera”.
i’ve been on a drive to meet conductors, singers, orchestral players and improvising musicians working in the music departments at uc irvine, ucla and bringing them together with practitioners who inhabit a somewhat different take on the act of music-making in the popular sphere – community institutions like ‘the world stage’ in leimert park, south central l.a.

aesthetics in white samba

extrapolating further the theme of making radical art at street level i returned to sao paolo, brazil, to carry out a week-long intervention in protest-making in the global south together with, among others, ilu oba – a group of women who perform candomble rhythms usually forbidden to females in the yoruba tradition. packing djembes, dun duns, shekere and our loud voices, a few score of us took to the streets of bom retiro – the jewish-korean-bolivian quarter – to sing songs to chango, the orixa sometimes associated with making war, and forcing open any locked gates.

we made so much noise that at some point local security guards actually tried to shut us out and stop us crossing the parcue da luz – a public park. they managed only to slow us down though, since eventually the gates were thrown open.

neo muyanga, WISER/UCHRI composer-in-residence, 2015

Black Music and the Aesthetics of Protest – Hammer Museum

“the Protester” by tafari mashingaidze

Black Music and the Aesthetics of Protest

Co-presented with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Department of Musicology

Neo Muyanga’s opera The Struggle serves as a departure point for a panel discussion exploring the role of Black opera and other genres of Black music in achieving racial justice and social change, the persistent exclusionary politics of musical genres, and the future revolutionary potential of historically defined Black genres.

Moderated by Tamara Levitz, Professor of Musicology, UCLA, the panelists will include Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and African-American Studies, Duke University; Guthrie Ramsey, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professorof Music , University of Pennsylvania; Robin Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History, UCLA; Shana Redmond, Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California; and Gayle Murchison, Associate Professor of Musicology, College of William and Mary.

Supported by the UCHRI Vital Dialogue series


notes from joburg

Notes from a composer-in-residence, April & May 2015

How To Say “!ke e: /xarra //ke”

Being a fortunated minstrel moor, yours truly received an unexpected commission from the Southern African Music rights Organisation (SAMRO) foundation to compose a new prescribed work for singers to be performed by competitors in this year’s overseas scholarship competition.

The commission landed with the following brief:

“the work is to be a virtuoso piece testing the ability and skills of a singer at an advanced level.
The text to be sung: an extract from the vision statement co-authored by Njabulo Ndebele and Antjie Krog, commissioned by the NPC. Length of the work: 5 minutes”.

This was a request to make a young diva or divo sing the preamble to the National Planning Commission report – hardly a pedestrian ask for those accustomed to scaling more conventional lyrical heights! Now, i know well the poetry of both Prof’s, Ndebele and Krog: I treasure it all very much!
But this preamble business … eish – it reads more like a political position paper (necessarily) than a dexterous arioso. “No matter. That’s the gig, so let’s get on with it”, i thought.

I began by looking for a poetic (of sorts) entry into the thing. One paragraph stood out:

Our multiculturalism is a defining element of our indigeneity.
We are, because we are so many.
Our many-ness is our strength – we carry it in us throughout our lives.

It occurred to me that the motto emblazoned on our national coat of arms, !Ke e: /xarra //ke (often translated from the !Xam as “diverse people unite”), echoes the sentiments expressed in this stanza.
How better to test a virtuoso’s ability and skill than to have them vocalise this tongue-defying motto correctly under duress during a highly prestigious singing competition?!

That is how this motto became the first line in a 5 minute-long song i composed, which contained the refrain

We are Africans. in an African century”

Sadly, i cannot give you a rendition of this new work now as it is embargoed until its premiere at the overseas completion later this year.

Violence and the immigrant

As part of a conference on ‘public space, infrastructure and informality’ hosted by WISER and the University of Michigan, i convened a panel on ‘violence and the immigrant’ at the Worker’s museum in Newtown, Joburg.

This was, of course, an attempt to respond directly to the harrowing pictures and reports we keep getting concerning violence perpetrated on black and brown immigrants in South Africa by angry and disaffected South Africans in Durban, Joburg, Cape Town and other parts of the country.

The panel was conceived as a platform for seeking a more nuanced understanding of the causes and the deeper meaning of these atrocious acts of violence – nuance that is, sadly, lacking in much of the cacophonous debates we hear on our national radio and tv stations regarding ‘foreigners’ .

We hear much about how foreigners need to guarantee their safety in our communities by, for instance, volunteering to share their ‘secret’ business nous (and juju) with poor, marginalised black South Africans. The claim here being that such gracious behaviour on the part of the foreigners would help ensure their disadvantaged hosts aren’t left bereft while they (the foreigners) selfishly amass opportunities in commerce. (i am paraphrasing some of the more embarrassing pronouncements coming from members of our cabinet here, sadly).

The panel consisted of an in-detail report by journalist, Khadija Patel, on the attitudes of those who admit to having perpetrated the violence in Soweto recently. You can read her full report here:


This was followed by responses by prof. Sarah Nuttall and myself plus a selection of comments from those gathered on possible ways to think about the history and the making of Johannesburg as an African metropolis of the 21st century.

This was followed by a very informative tour of the Worker’s museum:

Later that same evening, i invited my newest collaborators – the House of Prayer for all Nations choir (HNP) – to perform an alternative version of !Ke e: /xarra //ke at the WITS theatre.

The approach to HNP was made since many of the singers there are members of the congolese community now-living-in inner-city Joburg. The choir makes a point of collecting gospel material from across the continent and of singing in the many languages of Africa: kiSwahili, Lingala, English, Yoruba, isiZulu, French and seSotho and so on.

It occurred to many of us during this exercise of curating a presentation on immigrants in inner-city that we should think strategically about the church as an institution – regardless of whether this be space rented, per week, in a high-rise tenement, or across an unoccupied open field somewhere outside – that represents one of the more open platforms where Africans meet to collaborate and support each other today.

i leave you with this clip of the concert of that night.

Neo Muyanga
WISER/UCHRI composer-in-residence