A Rainbow of Songs: An Appreciation of the Texts of Selected South African Folk and Art Songs


Afrikaans, isiZulu and tshiVenda are but three of the eleven languages of our colourful South African Rainbow Nation. Traditional folk songs arranged by composer Hannes Taljaard (1971-) and a set of five short songs by his compatriot, Niel van der Watt (1962-) with texts by Daniel Hugo, will be performed and aspects of the music and song texts discussed by South African soprano and voice lecturer, DeirdrBlignaut-Rautenbach Of his arrangement of the set of traditional songs, Zwikumbu Zwiraru (Three Calabashes), the Venda-born Hannes Taljaard fondly writes:

One can think of songs as containers, somewhat like calabashes [a shell of a gourd from a tree]. In songs we store and share ideas, experiences and identities. Songs help to create cultures and they enable individuals to become part of those cultures. I love to work with folk songs and to think of ways of enhancing some of their qualities.

The three lullabies in Hannes Taljaards Zwikumbu Zwiraru have various origins; Ihi (tshiVenda) has an ambiguous text but a simple melody consisting mostly of the tonic triad; Siembamba (Afrikaans) is a well-known song which is thought to refer to events during the Anglo-Boer War; and Thula Thu (isiZulu) is often sung as a favourite in the classroom. The texts of Niel van der Watts five short Afrikaans art songs, Vier Elemente en n Epiloog (Four Elements and an Epilogue), refer to the four basic elements and alchemy. The first four songs are each based on an element water, air, fire and earth. Hugos metaphors give each element a contemporary and universal meaning. In the last song, the fleeting nature of human existence is pondered. The two contrasting parts in the music consist of a sombre meditation followed by a peaceful movement towards redemption.

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