In praise of the youth

With a range of events scheduled, Artscape Theatre’s Youth Month programme was launched to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1976 student protests.

The month-long programme of events kicked off with the Sekunjalo Edujazz Concert, featuring Jimmy Nevis on Saturday June 4 and includes ALLBasters (the hip-hop production that brings South African and Dutch artists together), performances by the Benjamin Jephta Quintet, the hip-hop production Cape Town’s Most Wanted, the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival and Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections on the Youth of ‘76.

Commenting on the motivation behind putting the programme together, Mandla Mbothwe, creative manager at Artscape, says: “As Artscape, we are always keen to tell our national stories and recognise the nuclear moments of our heritage, whether political or social. Remembrance through storytelling is very important to us as a theatre.”

With the student protests of June 16, 1976, being one of the seminal moments in South Africa’s socio-political history, this year’s 40th year commemoration lends itself perfectly to the expansive programme aimed at this “remembrance through storytelling”.

Says Mr Mobthwe: “June 16 was one South Africa’s nuclear moments, where youth said ‘enough is enough’. It was a moment where language became a centre of our discourse; where education came to be seen as a gift that you cannot simply take away.

“And, while we look at these moments, it was important for us to not only retell those moments, but to creatively and critically reflect on them. To look at who we are, where we come from and what we, as a country, have committed to.

“That’s the core function of us as a cultural centre – to speak to the nation and help us mould our identity before someone else moulds it for us.”

Mr Mbothwe is also the musical director of Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections on the Youth of ’76, which will be staged today, Thursday June 16, at 5pm. The line-up includes actresses Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Bo Petersen, Celeste Matthews-Wannenburgh and Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu, as well as poets Koleka Putuma, Siphokazi Jonas and Janine van Rooy (more popularly known as Blaq Pearl).

In addition to visuals by multimedia artist Sanjin Muftic, the production also features the talents of musicians such as percussionist Dizu Plaatjies, multi-instrumentalist Mark Fransman, bass player Brydon Bolton as well as librettist Lesego Rampolokeng.

Speaking on the motivation for putting the show (and its diverse line-up) together, Mr Mbothwe says: “I always had this desire to juxtapose more legendary artists with born-free poets and allow them to engage with a central theme and that opportunity was afforded me by the 40 years commemoration of June 16.

“The power of this show is allowing each artist to come up with their own personal narratives reflecting on youth of 1976 and the youth of today.”

Merging the talents of the youth of today and the youth of previous generations is what the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival is doing.

Under the theme “100% South African”, the programme sees young jazz students interpreting songs by legendary South African musicians, such as Hugh Masekela, Winston Mankunku and Marcus Wyatt.

Wilmie Kritzinger, the festival’s project manager, says: “We invited 14- to 25-year-olds to apply for participation in the programme. Of these, we chose 16 who, for 10 weeks, were mentored by musicians such as pianist Camillo Lombard, drummer Frank Paco, bass player Wesley Rustin, and saxophonist Marc de Kock.”

Under the musical directorship of vocalist Amanda Tiffin, the programme will culminate in a performance which will be held on Saturday June 18, at 7.30pm.

Says Ms Kritzinger: “What also makes it really special for us is that 50% of all proceeds from the evening will go towards the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre.”

The centre, situated on the grounds of Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital in Mitchell’s Plain, provides specialised, high-intensity rehabilitation and community-reintegration programmes for persons with physical disabilities.

Speaking on what message he hopes Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections on the Youth of ’76 will bring across, Mr Mbothwe says: “I’d like for it to remind us of the power of knowledge and education; to highlight that a nation is what you feed it through education.

“But I also hope it inspires greater interest in our collective archives; greater interest in excavating, restoring and celebrating our socio-political archives and our stories. Because, as Ben Okri said, ‘we are stories that we tell ourselves.’”

* For a full schedule of events as well as ticket prices, visit www.artscape.co.za