Over time the Drakensberg Boys Choir has established itself as incubator for a lot of renowned artists today. One such success story is Thuthuka Sibisi, a celebrated young choirmaster, musical director, composer, visual artist and physical performer.
“Being able to attend Drakensberg really served as catalyst to the artist I am today,” recalls this talented 30 year-old, who was selected as one of the Mail and Guardian’s top 200 Young South Africans last year.
“It was a gruelling but well-rounded education. The process constantly pushed us to think about musicianship as an all-encompassing practice.”
In that way, this former Stellenbosch University (SU) BMus graduate reckons, his professional career began when he was just 12 years old as a result of having to perform for large audiences weekly, in addition to local and international tours annually.
“I find myself constantly using the tools I learned then to this day. Albeit becoming more distilled, they remain central to my practice — from rehearsal prep, etiquette to production and performance.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Thuthuka — who just got back from attending a residency in New York at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan — is his ability to create an ongoing conversation between classical music elements, with more modern undertones and African influences.
“What I create is a product of my lived experience as a young black African male in the age of the internet. Whether on a conscious or subconscious level, I make sense of the world I inhabit through art.
“In doing this, I concern myself with constantly pushing against the status quo in terms of what names certain forms are given; some will go as far as to call this a bastardisation of genre, but I’d like to think I revel in such; an understanding that certain ‘borders’ just don’t exist.”
For Thuthuka, therefore, working in all these “different” musical languages is not always a conscious decision, but rather an enveloping process that can be revealing.
“Furthermore, working as a collaborative artist suits me best, and this too adds to my process — it becomes a give and take not only with the environment or thematic material I’m working with, but also the people in the room I may find myself working with.”
He has had the opportunity to be involved with several high-calibre international productions to date, which included opportunities to collaborate with renowned industry figures such as William Kentridge and Philip Miller.
“Each project has been amazing in its own way. Triumphs and Laments, for instance, stand out because of the sheer mammoth scale of the project and what we achieved.
Grace Notes thrills me as a triumph because it was really the first commission I received from Cape Town Opera. In addition, most of the music that I put on that programme was reminiscent of or from my boyhood at the Drakensberg Boys Choir; herein I felt I had come full circle in a way.”
The rest of 2018 is shaping up to be just as busy for this young trailblazer, thanks to the debut of William Kentridge’s The Head & The Load (Thuthuka is musical director) at London’s Tate Modern in July. The production will also travel to New York and Berlin.
- Watch a trailer for The Head & The Load here.
- Listen to African Choir 1891 reimagined here.
- By Steyn du Toit -