Prof Mzilikazi Khumalo, a linguist and choral and opera composer, was passionate about composition and the preservation of African music and languages. Now his legacy is being honoured through a collaboration between Khumalo’s family and American and South African academics. Picture: PETER MOGAKI/ SOWETAN

AHHI Steering Committee member Naomi André (DAAS, Women’s Studies, and Residential College) was featured in South African newspaper Business Day on the occasion of the conference she co-organized in August 2018 at the University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria, South Africa. The conference, funded in part by an AHHI seed grant, focused on the intellectual legacy of Professor James Stephen Mzilikazi Khumalo, one of the foremost South African composers, who played a major role in advancing Black choral music during and after apartheid. The conference was the first major review of Professor Khumalo’s life and work, examining his remarkable careers in music (choral and opera) and linguistics.

Khumalo is best known for writing the first South African oratorio in an African language (UShaka, 1982, rev. 1996) and being the first Black South African composer of a full-length opera (Princess Magogo, 2002), tackling the arrangement of traditional material and drawing on vernacular choral and compositional traditions. He also chaired the committee that chose the new national anthem for South Africa after apartheid: the extended version of Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika with lyrics in all 11 national languages. The conference at Unisa brought together scholars and those close to Khumalo --family members, friends, conductors, and musicians-- to shine light on his central role in South Africa’s vibrant choral and operatic traditions at a time that the country is moving to decolonize curricula and structures of knowledge.

The attention generated by the conference was appreciated by André and her colleagues, including UMAPS alumni Brenda Innocentia Mhlambi who has worked with André since 2010. Their main aims for the conference, and the edited volume that will result from it, were to make Khumalo’s works better known, to have them performed more regularly, and for them to become integrated into school and university music curricula in South Africa and beyond.

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