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Wednesday, December 16, 2015


(Dawn Thandeka King. Pic by Val Adamson)

A noteworthy achievement for composer/conductor Prof Musa Xulu. (Review by Keith Millar)

The imposing stone homestead that is Coedmore Castle is situated in the heart of the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve in the Durban suburb of Yellowwood Park. It was built in 1885 as a family home for the pioneer Stainbank family.

It was in the spacious grounds of this historical and gracious homestead that the Heritage Development Trust hosted its cross-cultural celebration on the Day of Reconciliation today (December 16).

One of the attractions on offer was the interesting Mary Stainbank Memorial Gallery which is situated in the restored farm granary, next to Coedmore Castle. Mary Agnes Stainbank (1899–1996) was an exceptionally talented sculptress, sometimes misunderstood and often unrecognised. A large body of her work is on display in the gallery which is open to the public by appointment. There was also a display of prisoner art.

The foundation of the day-long celebrations was the entertainment presented on the large stage in the castle grounds as the audience relaxed and picnicked in the sun. A great variety of acts took place including Indian classical dancing, traditional Zulu dancing, rappers, singers, poets, choirs and comedians and an appearance by Durban jazz band 5th Season.

The centrepiece of the day’s festivities, however, was the premiere of a new work by Professor Musa Xulu entitled The House of Shaka: A Choral Musical. I am pleased that I was there to see this production because I believe we may have witnessed the birth of a major new work.

The powerful and absorbing music is sometimes very operatic, sometimes more contemporary but always very South African. The musical takes the audience on a journey from the birth of King Shaka, all the way through to modern times.

Featured soloists were the opera-trained diva Sibongile Mngoma and TV star Dawn Thandeka King as well as some exceptional solo voices from the participating choirs. These choirs were the 22-voice House of Shaka Ensemble and the House of Shaka Chorus, which consisted of 60 voices from the award-winning Clermont Community Choir.

Accompanying the singers was an eight-piece string ensemble from the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist David Smith.

Special mention must go to the sound technicians from the Insane Sound and Lighting Company who did an excellent job despite the challenge of a very strong wind which caused havoc with the microphones.

The House of Shaka: A Choral Musical is a noteworthy achievement for composer/conductor Prof. Musa Xulu. All choral music lovers should look out for future performances of this work – and hopefully there will be many.

The day-long celebrations at Coedmore Castle were presented by the Heritage Development Trust and funded by the National Lotteries Commission. – Keith Millar