Sunday 12 April 2020

Miriam Makeba on performance art in Sharjah

Neo Muyanga, house of MAKEdbA, 2019. Vinyl record; 12 in. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
In honour of the legendary South African musician, Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), a sound work titled ‘house of MAKEdba’, has been released on vinyl.
The work, a recording of  performance artist, Neo Muyanga, which featured during the opening of Sharjah Biennial 14 (SB14), in 2019, is an interactive installation including a live performance, of the same title.

In announcing the release of the vinyl, few days ago,  Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) noted that although much has been documented about Makeba's musical career, "her role as primary translator of what it meant to be an African in a world of declining empire has often been reduced to a footnote."

SAF explained how Muyanga captured Makeba, within the context of today, showing "us to a global future of contingency and a questioning of the assumption that home is static, homogenous and secure."

The statement also recalled how Makeba's vocal stand against apartheid led to her inability to return to South Africa.  In self-exile, she "lived for a time in ‘Muslim Africa’, performing, for example, at the 1978 Pan-African Games in Algiers." Makeba's presence at the games, according to SAF, "elevated the minority view that North African countries should be included under the banner of Pan-African solidarity."

Muyanga's sound work also include a tribute to Makeda, the ancient queen of Sheba. Muyanga's work juxtaposes the ‘voices’ of Sheba and Makeba  to visualise "what it would have meant for us if they had not been born over 2000 years apart," but imagined them as contemporaries "who had known and talked with one another."

Muyanga's performance of interactive installation curated by Zoe Butt, during Sharjah  Bienniale 2019 had the artist performed with two record players. He had layers of Makeba’s vocals woven through his own compositions to create a space of healing and memory.

Available for listening by online order via emailing:, 'house of MAKEdbA' on vinyl is said to bave activated the space at SAF’s Al Hamriyah Studios through aperformance of the sound work which took place in March 2019 during the opening week of SB14. Conducted by Muyanga, the performance also featured a chamber orchestra and four singers (Tine Mene, soprano; Siphokazi Molteno, alto; Ongama Mohlontlo, tenor; and Theo Magongoma, baritone). The installation invited visitors to play the records and dwell in the restorative sounds of Makeba’s legacy for the duration of the Biennial.

Muyanga is a composer, musician and librettist who tours widely, both as a solo performer and in various bands. He has composed music plays, chorus songs and a number of operatic works for chamber and large ensembles.

Muyanga co-founded the live music platform and cyber-steam portal Pan African Space Station with publisher/editor Ntone Edjabe in 2008 and the acoustic soul duo Blk Sonshine with Masauko Chipembere in 1996. His recorded albums include second-hand reading (2016), toro tse sekete (2015), dipalo (2011), good life (2009), fire famine plague and earthquake (2007), the listening room (2003) and blk sonshine (1999). Among his published works are the opera heart of redness (2015), the chamber opera the flower of shembe (2012) and the music play memory of how it feels (2010).
 -Tajudeen Sowole.

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