By Alyssa Harrison
The music concert held at the Black Power Station on Saturday evening was an intimate gathering, a much smaller space than I had anticipated. This only added to the warmth as we sheltered from the brisk wind outside. The cosy atmosphere was accentuated by wooden bookshelves filled to the brim with books, as well as several couches that were put out for people to lounge on. In the centre of the room was a slightly raised platform with traditional instruments laid out in front of it, ready to be played. Already, the space signified a sense of togetherness, the gap between audience and performer broken.
The space brought together multiple forms of art. I immediately knew that I was among like-minded people when the evening began with a Black Power Station tradition, where anyone was invited on stage to read an extract from a book. The concert also featured original artworks by Asakhe Cuntsulana.
A sense of anticipation grew, however, when guest artist Zanethemba Mdyogolo stepped forwards to perform a solo on the guitar, kickstarting the musical programme of the evening. Cuntsulana then took over, performing a piece on the one-stringed Xhosa uHadi bow.
Cuntsulana is a former music teacher at St. Andrews College and has finished his Master’s at Rhodes University. The music programme was a celebration and farewell of his time in Makhanda and painted a picture of his musical journey. “I’ve made friendships, relationships, broken friendships, found love in Makhanda…I need to acknowledge the role that [these people]have played in my life.” The theme of hope was threaded throughout his compositions while also acknowledging the hardships and social challenges that society goes through.
One of the compositions that he played on the Adungu, a Ugandan harp, was a poignant piece about the Fees Must Fall movement that took place in 2016. It left us holding our breath, and eager for more of the rich sound of the Adungu, as the song faded away.
Despite the stark contrast between each instrument – the Adungu, a harmonic instrument and full of sound, and the uHadi bow, limited in its range – Cuntsulana quickly drew us all into the world of African folk music. Before long, he had the entire audience clapping or singing along with vigour, calling us his “choir” as we enthusiastically joined in with the call-and-response.
As the evening drew to a close, a sense of peace stole over the room. The lullaby-like lull of the closing songs were made richer as other musicians accompanied him on guitar, voice and clarinet. Cuntsulana concluded with a duet called Sombawo, performed with the composer Dumza Maswana, and an encore piece with Mdyogolo and Musa. A beautiful farewell and reflection of Cuntsulana’s musical journey, the concert was personal and heartfelt. As he had promised in an interview before the concert, Cuntsulana conjured a space within his world of music where people could be at peace with themselves. Still lost in his world, we went home to rest, hope in our hearts.