Sunday, July 5, 2020

MUFHULULU – A CULTURAL AND MUSICAL PERSPECTIVE

It Has To Be Jazz┬« 

As we continue to celebrate the awarding of the bid to host the 2020 International Jazz Day in Africa, especially in view of the Roots and Routes theme, we went searching for the role of sound elements which are common throughout the different music genres. But most importantly, we looked for something that is specific to a celebration. After much deliberation we ended up with‘Mufhululu ÔÇô a TshiVenda word for ululation and in Setswana it is known as Mogolokwane.

Let us share information on Mufhululu so as to make it easy to put into perspective its relevance to a jazz event celebration. Mufhululu has different dialects and they differ from tribe to tribe. It is a unique way of identifying with a particular tribe. This is especially evident during celebrations such as weddings, poetry recitals, academic graduations and other such joyous occasions. The sound is unique in that it cannot be produced any other way except through manipulation of a tongue. Of course, this does not take into account the sound reproduction via technology. Therefore, one can comfortably extend the concept of tongue manipulation to jazz scatting because the technique is identical. After a long discussion with an accomplished scholar and trumpet musician of note Putlane Timothy Prince Trevor Lengoasa, it became clear that the role of the tongue is just as crucial to trumpet and trombone playing as it is to Mufhululu. Furthermore, the unique dialects we alluded to earlier are just as crucial in brass instruments. He cited an example of the recent brass players from West Africa who performed at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2019) and how they compare with the ones in South Africa during soccer matches. It is the same instrument but different takes on expression and sound.

Armed with the new-found knowledge and information, I went looking for one specific Mufhululudialect and that is the one of Balete tribe. I suppose you might have fallen into the same trap that only women champion Mufhululu.  Guess what? I had the same mind-set until Leroy Nyoni recommended that I find Ntirelang Shima Berman. You know, I was in total disbelief and had to ask: ‘Isn’t he a man?’ ‘Yes, but I guarantee you the best results,’ Leroy answered. I gave Ntirelang a call and we clicked from the word go. He confirmed his availability to demonstrate and record Balete Mufhululu for the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project.  During the recording I stood there in total shock of what I was hearing and when we were done recording, I requested a meeting to further discuss his background. I got more than I bargained for and what I found impressive was his commitment to Setswana culture and its dynamics. He views contribution to culture and tribe as a responsibility and something to leave behind. This was the first time I came across someone whose perspective of arts and culture is not specific to entertainment but a commitment and responsibility to a tribe and in turn to the nation.

Now who is Ntirelang Shima Berman? In 2017 I attended an incredible stage drama with a terrific humour called Kgolo ÔÇô Tlola Pitsa. In its simplicity lies an intricate web of great work but presented in a manner that would make you wonder how this feat was actually achieved. The man behind this work is Ntirelang, whose role was to produce and direct the music. But that was not all because he also handled the choreography aspect of the production.

He is a multitalented busy man! One of the many things that keep him busy is his engagement with Mophato Dance Theatre and I Love Botswana Ensemble which was commissioned for the celebrations of Botswana’s 50th Anniversary.  This ensemble also toured London during the aforementioned celebrations. When he is not touring, he is involved with several local gigs around Gaborone.

While the scope of the research on Mufhululu was initially restricted to celebrations through the different dialects, we found it compelling to look at what other forms of celebrations Ntirelang could add. We were delighted to discover that he actually plays several indigenous instruments and sings a lot of Setswana songs. Now how else can one better celebrate the 2020 International Jazz Day except through the joyful sound of these indigenous instruments?

The idea behind the concept of Mufhululu is a new project the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project is currently putting together for a number of reasons. The first being to align new productions for showcasing during the 2020 International Jazz Day in Cape Town while the second reason is to celebrate the enormous effort that has gone into bringing International Jazz Day to Africa. Yes, it seemed impossible at the beginning but of course, unless one tries, we would never know. We are just happy as the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project team that it worked out.

So, why did Mufhululu make the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project review? The Roots and Routes which specifically places emphasis on tracing, relating and documenting what actually constitutes jazz has opened up a new avenue that we now need to look at closely especially its relationship to jazz. It is people like Ntirelang and Prince that are leading us in the right direction as they are able to provide a base upon which we can build. This is only the beginning and I trust and pray that this work on the Roots and Routes will bear the desired fruits.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.