After a highly successful showcase in KwaZulu-Natal, the Early African Intellectuals as Composers of Music project ignites the Cape this Heritage Month!

The project  is a historical undertaking that seeks to ‘wake up’ the African to their ancient music composition and intellectual excellence; as well as raise awareness of and educate about the birth and journey that has been travelled by compositions of the past while finding a place for them to be recognized and enjoyed in contemporary Africa.

Launched in a seminar in Durban to an audience of artists, creatives, music teachers, intellectuals and media; the project presents a rich combination of intellectualism and creativity. This speaks to the need to unearth, expose and honour African artistic heritage that would otherwise remain buried and unremembered in the halls of history, along with other African content that is shunned just because of its African origins.

“The intention is to go back to these ancient compositions and see how best we can deliver them today using the means that we have,” says Dr Thokozani Mhlambi the project curator. It takes the audience along on the journey travelled to uncover the archival material related to the compositions of early African intellectuals through video documentary, performance and dialogue. The three month long archive & digital campaign culminates in an Exhibition Concert to honour, celebrate and revive the sounds of revered intellectuals such as John Langalibalele Dube.

“We had to retrieve the songs from the archives of various arts and culture institutions- some of which are named after the intellectual greats whom I humbly hope this project will fittingly honour and do justice to their compositional excellence,” says Dr Thokozani Mhlambi who was awarded the National Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Innovation.

Audiences can expect: (1) Renditions from what Mhlambi terms ‘The Ntsikana Moment’ which honours and is a revival of Xhosa prophet, Ntsikana’s music. (2) Music from Reuben Caluza’s 1920s ragtime, sung by UKZN Opera students. Caluza was the first African to receive a music degree in the country. The piece called ‘i-Land Act,’ relates the tragic consequences of the controversial land act which many early African intellectuals, including Sol Plaatje and John L Dube, stood against.  

Africans (and South Africans in particular) will learn about and indulge in the revived sounds of Ntsikana, Enoch Sontoga, Tiyo Soga and lesser known woman composer Nokutela Dube, first wife of John L Dube. These compositions are among those that will be performed by Dr Mhlambi, who plays the cello and voice, and an ensemble consisting of UKZN and UCT music students.


 1. Panel Discussion
Date: Tuesday 3 September 2019
Time: 10am-11:15am
Venue: The Kitchen, Woodstock

Mhlambi in conversation with:
1.Ms Ncebakazi Mnukwana (Stellenbosch University, Music)

2. Dr Litheko Modisane (University of Cape Town, Media)

3. Dr Thozama April (University of Western Cape, CHR)

Discussion: The compositions of early African intellectuals such as Tiyo Soga’s ‘Lizalise idinga lakho’, Sontonga’s ‘Nkosi Sikelela’ as they are known and understood by communities today have become indigenous. Those who sing them in church meetings, stokvels and political gatherings do not refer to a written score, but rather rely on a collective memory which has developed and changed over time. How did we get here? Is this important to ensure the survival of these songs?

2. Exhibition Concert
Date: 27 September 2019
Venue: C7, College of Music, UCT

Tickets can be purchased via at R100 each. (R60 students/pensioners)

Webtickets link:

The project is supported by the following partners: the Afropolitan Explosiv, Luthuli Museum, Killie Campbell Africana Library (a part of UKZN) and the National Arts Council

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