IAM Committee 2019: Left to Right: Nandipha Mnyani, Monthati Masebe, Dr Rabothatha, Joe Makhanza, Thlokwe Sehume, Andile Khumalo, Mabeleng Moholo, Ncebakazi Mnukwana, Bernet Mulungo. (Absent from photograph: Mpho Molikeng, Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph)

The IAM transcription project brought together numerous specialists from around South Africa to contribute to the programme. Other than performers and transcribers the SAMRO Foundation hosted a committee of IAM leaders to help select, and consider the works for the programme.

We are very grateful to the panel for their insights edits and support in this project.

Some of the following challenging questions were addressed by the IAM committee:

1. How did we effectively preserve IAM works?

There was a concern that the limitations of music notation meant that the spirit, rich traditions and practices of IAM could be lost if the transcription lacked the proper information. The stamping of feet, the tone of the voice, the spiritual context and other matters needed to be considered as well. It was stressed that the story behind each work be captured in order to give the works relevance and personality. Ideally, the unique aesthetic of the works, the ‘salt’, would need to be captured. Interpretation and teaching techniques would need to be considered.

The committee agreed:

  1. that the project’s audiences for the project were broad, and included (but not limited to) the following:
    1. music students from around the world
    2. music performers from around the world
    3. South African teachers & scholars
  2. that, as the final product would be an online resource, the transcriptions would be supported with suitable multimedia, and where possible, include:
    1. Audio,
    2. Video,
    3. The story of the work,
    4. clear descriptions of context of the work,
    5. and instructions regarding the work, the instrument, the traditions, the costumes, etc…
  3. agreed that we needed to use a transcription consistent with international practices, as such ethnographic transcription techniques unique to researchers would be avoided.
  4. that, while Western Staff Notation had its limitations, it’s international use made it the most convenient format for the purposes of this project.

The matter of Tonic Sol-Fa notations was considered and the following points were made:

  1. The voice was an important part of African music, and Tonic Sol-Fa was widespread amongst South African choirs and broadly practiced in our country. It would therefore assist South Africans in learning their traditional music.
  2. The notation of Tonic Sol-Fa varies in different countries, and where we used it we would need to be clear of the technique we used.

2. Representation and Partnerships

The committee was cognisant that it did not represent all indigenous cultures and it would be necessary to consult with people who represented other cultures. For example, sub-divisions in the official cultural structures did not represent all cultures, as the Khelobedu was merged into Bapedi culture.

It was agreed that a process of dialogues with practitioners would need to take place in order to translate the works effectively.

3. Towards a template of IAM works that are ‘at risk’

‘At-risk’ was identified a broad term and that the committee agreed on the following template to help define appropriate works for the project:

  1. The work should have reference to ancient practice
  2. The work should have a connection to spiritual and healing practices
  3. The ability to notate a work should not be applied to the decision – i.e. if the work proved impossible to transcribe within the restrictions of Western Staff Notation, a way would need to be found to document it.
  4. The tradition and context of the work would be needed to inform our decisions
  5. The primary works need to be able to be presented attractively to the public in order to encourage further support for the project.
  6. For the first phase of the project the works would be limited to the geographical boundaries of South Africa as defined by the proposal to the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation
  7. The committee would endeavour to include a representative collection of pan-ethnic works, and avoid a bias towards particular cultures
  8. Modern constructs of IAM works would be avoided

4. Categories of works

To help the committee create an even collection of works we agreed to consider a spread of categories. These were:

  1. Ceremonial work – including wedding songs, royal hymns, warrior’s return songs
  2. Instrumental works broken down by:
    1. Pipes like the Shikona and Dinaka
    2. Bows & Strings like the Uhadi, lugube etc
    3. Percussion like the Mbira
  3. Intimate works like lullabies and love songs
  4. Spiritual / Divine works
  5. Dance works