South African choral music (Amakwaya) : song, contest and the formation of identity.
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Amakwaya refers to the tradition and performance practice of choirs in South Africa that emerged from the mission-schools in the nineteenth century and is manifest today in the annual competitions held by various Teachers' Associations or company-sponsored events like the National Choir Festival. This choral practice, combining Western music styles with African tradition, bears the marks - both social and aesthetic - of colonial and missionary influences, and is closely linked to the emerging black middle class, their process of negotiating identity, and their later quest for a national culture. Many aspects of contemporary amakwaya performance practice, it is argued, including the recent interest of many members of the amakwaya community in opera, can be understood through an analysis of the social dimensions of these choirs. Particular attention is given to the role played by competitions and the sectionalised repertoire. The criticisms made in this regard flow from an understanding of the social meaning and aesthetic thrust of the tradition, from the author's practical involvement with the choirs, and from extensive discussions with choristers and conductors. The first part of the thesis is concerned with identifying the role played by European values such as those of education and progress, in the self-understanding of the emerging missioneducated black South African elite in the second half of the nineteenth century. An initial tendency towards uncritical imitation and attempts at assimilation ended in the experience of rejection by the settler community and isolation. It was followed, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, by a complex negotiation between traditional and modern values. With political, social and economic mobility restricted in white South Africa, the black middle class turned towards artistic expression such as choral singing in order to define and express a distinctively African concept of civilisation. In this process, amakwaya performance developed into a powerful means whereby class identity and consciousness could be constructed and communicated. The second part looks into the framework of amakwaya, and at the mission schools and colleges they attended and the competitions they organise. As a result of the practice of hymn singing, participation in a choir soon became an important part of the leisure time activities of the early mission converts. This formative phase of amakwaya is illustrated in a case study of one of the most influential schools in Natal, Adams College, near Amanzimtoti, where the first black South African School of Music was established. In order to promote the values important to the missionaries as well as their converts - discipline, progress, and success - competitions were encouraged at the mission stations. These became models for the competitions which today are the main feature of amakwaya practice. The voices of various members of the community are used to present a critical evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of present-day competitions. The last part of the thesis concentrates on amakwaya repertoire, particularly as it is represented at important choral competitions such as the National Choir Festival. This part also attempts to facilitate an understanding of the genesis, structure and aesthetic of the sectionalised repertoire, which consists of neo-traditional songs, Western compositions, and choral works composed by mission-educated musicians. Strict adherence to the sectionalised repertoire is a unique feature of amakwaya performance practice to the present day.
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