The International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa is an archive and museum at the vanguard of teaching, conducting research, and the performance of traditional African music. Since 2018, ILAM has received three ANT Mobility Fund grants that have enabled it to host visiting artists on residency and deepen connections with musicians in other parts of the region, such as Uganda, Mozambique and Angola. Dr Lee Watkins, ILAM director and an ethnomusicologist at Rhodes University, says that these musicians now form a vital part of the ILAM performance network, which coincides with the research-based network he has been developing with scholars in Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
We at ILAM want to deeply thank the SDC for its contribution to the music heritage of southern Africa, and for investing in a sector which is struggling to make its impact felt.
From Uganda we were able to invite master musician, Albert Bisaso Ssempeke. During his visit in 2018, Albert learnt more about ILAM as an archive and as a research centre. He taught at local schools and provided workshops and performances at Rhodes University in Makhanda, the University of Fort Hare in East London, and Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Needless to say, these performances and workshops made a lasting impression on audiences, learners and students as Bisaso is both a gifted musician and teacher. In 2020, Bisaso returned to Rhodes University as a Masters degree student. Given his stature in the traditional music of the continent, the university admitted him to postgraduate studies without him requiring a first degree. He is now in his second and final year of study.
We were also able to invite Venancio Mbande Junior from Mozambique to visit ILAM in 2019. Much like Bisaso, Venancio is the descendant of a family of musicians who are well-known in much of the world. Venancio taught students at various institutions and through this experience he exposed new audiences to the unique and endangered repertoire of the timbila. The success of the project may be measured by the exposure of school children and university students experiencing the music first hand. Venancio also successfully taught university students at Rhodes University and Nelson Mandela University and held a performance in Port Elizabeth. Responses from audiences were always highly positive as audiences in the Eastern Cape are not exposed to much music from outside South Africa. As is the case with Bisaso, Venancio was exposed to the requirements for conducting rigorous fieldwork research. He also returned to commence with a Masters degree in 2020 and is due to complete the degree at the end of 2021. His visit opened the doors to the possibility of collaborations where our students could visit his school and/or the annual timbila festival held in Inhambane, Mozambique. There was also collaboration in learning to build and maintain the instruments. While he was here Venancio repaired the timbila held at ILAM and showed our sound engineer, Elijah Madiba, how to accomplish this.
In 2020 ANT Mobility Funding enabled the visit of Jorge Antonio Henriques, a musician from Angola. We had prepared a programme of concerts and workshops at all the universities in the Eastern Cape. He arrived here just before the first lockdown and unfortunately none of these plans could materialise. He returned home with the first opportunity in July 2020. During his visit Jorge managed to record a few tracks at ILAM. These will be released as a package once recordings by Venancio Mbande from Mozambique and Bisaso Ssempeke from Uganda are completed. Jorge Henriques refers to himself as a music activist (this is our kind of muso) who is keeping the repertoire of the ungu music instrument alive. The ungu is a bow instrument and one of a large number of similar, single-stringed instruments in southern Africa. In 2008 he released an album called ‘Ngongo’ with ungu music and since then he has been performing and teaching around much of the world. Since his departure, Jorge has maintained in contact and us in the process of raising funds for him to return to ILAM as soon as it is possible.
The ANT Mobility fund has been a catalyst for igniting these vital relationships. This support shows how even a small amount can lead to major developments. I am very happy and proud to have been associated with this funder. We will forever be indebted to the ANT Mobility Fund which has made these connections between ILAM and renowned musicians of the continent viable and even sustainable, even if it is only through WhatsApp messages from time to time. Recipients of the grant have returned home, and returned to ILAM, with a strong desire to keep the traditional music of the continent alive.