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.
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.
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.