From The Mouths Of Babes brings SA’s Jewish heritage to the stage

Fresh off the stage at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, From the mouths of babes showcases three extraordinarily talented women on the Baxter Stage who are able to educate, entertain and inspire audiences with their unique insights into what it means to be Jewish and South African in today’s world.

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, Sivan Raphaely and Na’ami Gottlieb-Lieberman are all talented actors and singers who workshopped and created this production with director Malcolm Purkey. The reviews have been nothing short of outstanding.

We caught up with Sharon just before she boarded a plane to begin the Cape Town run.

Baxter Blog: How did the idea for this show come about?
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner: Sivan & I were getting tired of trying to fit a fixed concept of an English White South African identity. We felt that even though our roots may not necessarily be South African, we have lived a uniquely South African life & have been raised in this beautiful country in our own ways. Our Ashkenazi backgrounds may not represent a majority of South Africans but as women who were raised in South Africa, we contributed to South African life, society & sense of community.

We wanted to be ourselves- white Jewish English-speaking South African girls.

So we met up one day with Malcolm Purkey & said that we wanted to be authentic & portray this on stage. We wanted to give our lives and our stories a voice. A couple of meetings and workshops later with the addition of our third musketeer (Naami), and here we are!

BB: Is the show strictly for Jewish audiences or is there something in it for everyone?
SW: It’s for everyone! Initially we were afraid it would alienate other cultures since we are talking about our uniquely South African Jewish lives, but no!

Other cultures and groups have not only embraced us so warmly but have also commented on the universality of our cultural quirks.

In fact, we have made the piece inviting and accessible. Most of all, it’s honest and true and has a great sense of humanity-which brings people closer together.

BB: Do you think the Jewish experience in South Africa is under-reported? I imagine a lot of people don’t know this history.
SW: I think many of the smaller subcultures in South Africa are under-reported. I worry that communities stay isolated because of this & isolation breeds loneliness. I think it would be a great move towards living in a holistic society that one hears and takes interest in other cultures and the issues they face. We are so busy with politics that we forget to learn about one another, listen to each other & find out how we got to South Africa & what we bring to this nation.

BB: What kind of reaction to the work have you had?
SW: We have had great responses. For some, it’s not their cup of tea but that’s a matter of taste. You can’t like everything you see but on the whole it’s been mostly positive & embracing.

BB: Is it all traditional music or do you sing some contemporary as well?
SW: We sing traditional songs in different languages-Russian, Yiddish & Hebrew and the songs range from traditional to modern.

BB: What can audiences expect when they come to “From the Mouths of Babes”?
SW: They can expect a fun night out filled with laughter, beautiful music & pathos.

From the mouths of babes opens at the Baxter Theatre Centre on the 5th of December and runs until the 5th of January.

Click here for the Computicket link and price details.


The Black Ties bring soul to the stage with Vodacom Soul Classics

One of Cape Town’s best-loved musical outfits, The Black Ties, is coming home with ‘Vodacom presents Soul Classics‘ a show that celebrates the glory of soul music. With hits from Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Cee-Lo Green, a full band including a brass section, three backing singers and some of the Cape’s hottest young stars as guests, this promises to be one of the musical highlights of the year.

We caught up with the Ties in-between rehearsals.

Baxter Blog: What have The Black Ties been up to lately?
Keeno Lee: We have been planning and preparing for the Soul Classics show, doing a few gigs here and there and pushing our latest single, “Jump.”

BB: This Baxter show is a big step for you, isn’t it?
Chad Saaiman: It is, to a certain extent. It’s more of a homecoming, as myself and Lloyd did one of our 1st big shows here a decade ago and Keeno’s 1st show was here too before that. So we’re back.

BB: What can people expect?
Lloyd Jansen: They can expect a show filled songs that evoke memories and create moments, whether new or old. Along with the Black Ties trademark humour and soulful, harmonious interpretations.

BB: Why did you decide to go this route?
CS: It’s what we do naturally, so it made sense for us to approach it this way. People feel the authenticity in a performance and a real connection to a song and lyric.

Check out this video of some of their earlier work:

BB: Who else will be joining you onstage for the Vodacom Soul Classics?
ALL: Sasha-Lee, EBI from Good Hope FM and Lucy Tops. As well as a 6-piece band with 3 female backing vocalists. All incredibly talented individuals.

BB: Do you think soul music is still relevant today and still has an audience?
Keeno Lee: Yes. Soul music is music from the heart, and it appeals to most audiences, everybody has had a relationship and has experienced either heartache or happiness in that regard.

Chad Saaiman: Soul music is often about hope, and it’s real. It’s as it makes us believe, if we have forgotten. It’s what my mom and dad listened to. It’s musical storytelling at it’s best.

Lloyd Jansen: Definitely. It’s evident by the way soulful house music has been received, as many of the biggest hits in the country right now have an element of soul in either the chords, progressions or vocal delivery.

Vodacom Soul Classics runs from the 16th to the 21st of July. You can book tickets for next week’s performance right here.

Daniel & Matthew Pencer on creating the soundtrack to Mies Julie

During the winter of 2010, the director of the upcoming Mies Julie, Yael Farber, began frequenting Le Depanneur Cafe in Montreal where two brothers, Daniel and Matthew Pencer, were performing a weekly 2-hour musical improvisation. Their idea was to “accompany the space, giving less of a performance, more of ‘existing in the room’. This musical concept resonated particularly well with Farber and the style of theatre she creates, and when she suggested a collaboration on her forthcoming production ofKadmos, a strong creative partnership was born.

The partnership was so successful that Farber invited the Pencer brothers to Cape Town in order to develop a musical soundscape for the forthcoming production of Mies Julie, now in development at the Baxter.

Matthew Pencer was originally a drummer, until he began doing sound design on computers, for radio and mixing. He explains that “At one point I began incorporating drum machines into my setup, basically a programmable synthesizer. The more I played, the more I got interested in programming and began experimenting with my computer as an instrument. Eventually I became obsessed with the potential of using various technologies for music.”

Younger brother Daniel Pencer has been studying the clarinet and sax for 17 years. He has “a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz performance at the University of Toronto where I studied music ranging from Balinese Gamelan to classical clarinet to West African drumming. After all that, I continued my studies in India, learning North Indian classical music on the Clarionette and Bansuri.”

Creating music for a new theatrical work brings its own challenges. Due to the fact that the work is always changing and morphing, ‘the sonic accompaniment’ needs to keep up. “The music we create is largely improvised at first and our challenge is to recreate what Miss Farber thinks is appropriate for her vision,” says Matthew. “It takes a lot of patience and a keen understanding of how each scene is transitioning into the next. Being aware of the character’s moods and emotional narrative is integral to our process of creating sound accompaniment.”

The musical team is enhanced by the presence of Mama NoFirst, a Xhosa throat-singer from the Eastern Cape who performs as part of the Ngoqoko Cultural Group. The Smithsonian Folkways site explains that “Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music.In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics.”

Watch this video as an example:

How do the Pencers feel about working with South African artists? “It’s been a real pleasure meeting such wonderfully warm people! The knowledge that Mama Nofirst has shared with us so far is invaluable and what an incredible musical force! The cast has been welcoming and encouraging. It’s an honour to work with such talented artists in such an intense theatre process. What can you say about Miss Farber? She takes no prisoners and her unrelenting work ethic is an inspiration. Her encouragement and straight up directing style allows us to work efficiently and as a team to propel all of our hard work into the devastating beauty that she is envisioning.”

Finally, they were asked what the soundtrack to Mies Julie would be like….”imagine Morton Feldman meets Yamataka Eye meets Mama Nofirst”, and if that means nothing to you, then you’ll just have to come and see the show!

You can listen a snippet of the Pencer’s previous experimental improvised work here:

Mies Julie runs at the Grahamstown Festival from the 2nd to the 4th of July. (Book online here). It runs at the Baxter from 11 July to 26 July. (Book online here). The run continues at the Edinburgh Festival, followed by the Pretoria State Theatre.

‘Afrikaaps’ is a smash-hit in the Netherlands

One of the Baxter’s most successful co-productions from 2010 was the ‘Hiphopera’ called Afrikaaps, which tells the story of the Afrikaans language through a mix of storytelling, poetry, music, video and dance and recasts the language as a language of liberation.

The company is currently on an extensive month-long tour of the Netherlands, and Production Manager Lana Paries wrote to tell us about everything that is going on during this exciting tour:

“Afrikaaps has just completed a 2-day performance in Amersfoort with 80% audience attendance, standing ovations and multiple encores. We’ve also seen patrons dancing on stage, which apparently normally never happens over there.

We saw it first-hand as patrons came into the dressing room to express the impact the production has had on them.

Afrikaaps has been tweaked to accommodate the Dutch audience, everything is translated on the screen so audiences can follow, and new material has been created due to two well-known artists (DefP and Akwasi Ansah from NL) joining the production. They were just as surprised by the audience reaction we were, especially due to the nature of the production.

They were interviewed on a very popular Dutch television show in Rotterdam yesterday to captivate the younger audience for the show next week. Blaq Pearl (Janine van Rooy)and our local producer Catherine Hennigan did an interview on Sunday for a popular radio station aimed at getting the Surinamese audience in for the show, as they share a similar history as the one told in the production.

A few members of the cast were asked to participate in a spoken word event on Sunday at Paradiso in Leidseplein which went exceptionally well, and there have been other gigs that have emerged for them from people who have seen the production.”

When you need inspiration, get on your feet and find it

So I was sitting here struggling with ideas on what to write about, fiddling around on the internet. But the beauty of this job and of being at the Baxter is that you are guaranteed to find someone, somewhere in the building doing incredible work and expressing not only what they feel but what you feel as well.

You just have to get on your feet and find them.

So first I wandered into the Concert Hall to find a troupe of seven or eight marimba players sitting on the stage, slowly working out and developing complex polyryhthms and tones to beguil and intrigue the listener, and to banish once and for all the thought that this African music and African instruments cannot deliver complex, thought-provoking content. I don’t know the name of the group, but I know that the legendary musician Dizu Plaatjies is showcasing students from the SACM African Music Studio.

Then I stroll into the rehearsal room to see contemporary dance companyJazzart working on a run of their show. Took me 2 seconds to realise I needed my video camera. And I sat and watched, transfixed and transported by what these men and women are able to convey and do with their bodies. You should have been there, and hopefully you will be when they open. Also next Tuesday.

The dancers are telling their stories…not only with their bodies, but with their words, their choice of music, the twitch of a muscle that conveys a history of love and hurt, bullying and friendship. There is a reason they are the premier contemporary dance company in South Africa in my book. They are that good.

And there I was just sitting here, bored. Shame on me. And shame on you if you don’t come, support, feed on this art.

You will be the loser.

Composer Neo Muyanga on the art of the soundtrack

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Neo Muyanga is building up an impressive body of work as a composer for theatrical productions. Born in Soweto, he studied “the Italian madrigal tradition with choral maestro, Piero Poclen, in Trieste, Italy” before founding the ground-breaking acoustic folk duo Blk Sonshine.

Neo has composed soundtracks for The Royal Shakespeare Company (The Tempest), contemporary dance company, Jazzart as well as for “Memory Of How It Feels”, the highly-acclaimed show which he created.

Just days away from the opening of Ouroboros, his collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company Neo spoke to us about how he works.

BaxterBlog: How did your collaboration with Ouroboros come about?
Neo Muyanga: Janni asked me to compose the score to ‘Ouroboros’ after we’d developed a rapport while working on ‘The Tempest’ (Baxter/RSC production) together a few years ago.

The biggest hurdle is always the first five bars of a new piece.

BB: Did you have a singular idea in mind when you began composing?
NM: I began by making two contrasting themes: One for Andre (the poet) which was classically-bent and the other for Nokubonisa (the dancer) which was Jazzfrican.

Take a listen to the two contrasting themes:
Nokubonisa\'s Theme
Andre\'s Theme

BB: What is your process when you compose for a production (i.e someone else’s vision)?
NM: This usually depends on the director and their articulated vision. Sometimes a director comes with a script asking if I would respond to the text musically. Others, like Janni, get me to come in to rehearsals and to create a sound to frame or inhabit the visual universe they are inventing. I always carry a notebook where all my musical sketches begin, then I go back to my writing cave where I expand and shape the ideas into fuller musical narratives.

BB: Is there much collaboration with the artistic team or, as composer, do you have free run?
NM: I generally compose alone and usually away from the team, but only once I have spent time taking in the influence of the creative team on the rehearsal floor.

BB: What’s the hardest part of creating a musical score?
NM: For me, the biggest hurdle is always the first five bars of a new piece. I usually know at the end of bar five if an idea I have is crap or not. Once I know I decide whether (a) to continue, (b) scrap and start again or (c) massage the pile of rubbish into a tray of silver with fruit.

BB: What can audiences expect to take away from Ouroboros?
NM: The story is beautifully told and I think Janni has made a stunning set of puppets and projection visuals.

BB: Is there a CD of the soundtrack available?
NM: No, I’m afraid not.

5 reasons you should see UCT Opera School’s La Boheme

For three days only this week, from the 26th to the 28th of May, UCT’s Opera School and the Baxter Theatre will be presenting La Boheme, one of the world’s best-loved operas, directed by the legendary Angelo Gobbato and musical direction from Kamal Khan.

Some of you may be wavering about whether or not to make the effort (despite the cold and the rain) to come and see it.

Here are 5 reasons why you absolutely should make the time.

  1. It’s an extraordinary, timeless work.
  2. Since it first premiered in Italy during the late 1880’s, La Boheme has been universally acclaimed as one of Puccini’s masterworks and an all-time opera classic. Written by Giacomo Puccini and originally conducted by Alberto Toscanini, the opera has been performed continuously around the globe for the past 130 years and was recently presented on Broadway by ground-breaking Australian director, Baz Luhrmann and won a Tony award.

  3. The story is as relevant as ever.
  4. La Boheme is set in Paris during the 1830’s, and is based on a series of short stories which portray the lives of the young bohemians who flocked to the Latin Quarter of Paris looking for love and artistic fulfillment. The plot revolves around the romance between poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi. It’s grand, tragic, beautiful and hilarious – all at the same time.

  5. Future opera stars will be on display.
  6. UCT’s Opera School is continuously grooming and developing the brighest young talent in the world of opera and preparing them for a life in the spotlight. This staging will be a wonderful showcase for a new generation of opera stars to make their mark and begin the work of building a reputation as a major new star. This is your chance to see them before they are tainted by fame, jaded by fortune or exhausted by the gruelling schedule of a world-class music star.

  7. This is your life.
  8. Chances are that you’re young, struggling to make ends meet while following your dreams, deciding on a career, while finding and falling out of love. All at the same time. This is exactly what the show is about – and it’s what the performers as well as the audience are going through. At only R35 a ticket, it’s completely worth it.

  9. The music
  10. Of which there is nothing else to say except that it is sublime and unforgettable.

    Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Who is David Kramer?

David Kramer was born in 1951, and graduated from Worcester Boys High School before studying textile design at Leeds University in the UK, and graduating in 1974.

Back in South Africa, Kramer hit the music circuit where he fine-tuned his unique, satirical musical style through countless gigs all over the country. His first album, Bakgat, was released in 1980 and was immediately banned, because of “its political satire, the use of coarse language and the mixing of languages”. But he had developed his signature style, a mix of languages and satire with a strong and developed an image of a ‘working-class hero’ – portraying the everyman in South Africa and telling the real stories of South African characters from small towns all over the country.

His first number one hit, ‘Blokkies Joubert’ was followed by another hit, ‘Royal Hotel’. But it was only after his endearing TV and radio campaign for Volkswagen, which began in 1983, that David became a household name across South Africa.

Three years later, he began work on his first musical collaboration with Taliep Petersen at the Baxter Theatre. It was called ‘District Six’ Continue reading