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


  • Deirdré Blignaut-Rautenbach University of Pretoria


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, Deirdré Blignaut-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 Taljaard’s 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 Watt’s 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. Hugo’s 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.

Author Biography

Deirdré Blignaut-Rautenbach, University of Pretoria

Deirdré Blignaut (soprano) studies BA (Languages) at the University of North West, South Africa, graduates cum laude and is awarded Best Student, Faculty of Arts, 1988. She starts her career as translator at the largest South African transport company, Transnet, and later joins the Department of Arts and Culture as terminologist. In 1995 music becomes her full-time career and field of study. In 1996 she joins the ad hoc opera chorus of PACT, a regional opera company, and later sings understudy and solo parts until 2001. She studies singing with Werner Nel until 2000 and is currently with Eugenie Chopin. In 2002 she completes a Performer’s Licentiate cum laude and participates in the Unisa International Bursary Competition. Currently she is completing the degree MMus (Performing Arts) at the University of Pretoria where she is part-time lecturer in vocal pedagogy and practical singing. She also teaches singing at her private studio in Pretoria. Until the end of 2010 she also taught as part-time voice lecturer at the School of Music, North West University. She is actively involved in the community with adjudication at Eisteddfods and presentation of workshops country-wide. She presents papers at cultural organisations and publishes articles in the field of music in cultural journals. Her research interests are focused on the field of vocal pedagogy. She regularly performs in song recitals and oratorios and won an award for commissioned work at a major South African arts festival.