Songs of Greeting, Healing And Heritage wins HSS 2020 awards for Best Musical Composition


The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences has awarded Mantombi Matotiyana’s Songs of Greeting, Healing And Heritage the Best Musical Composition award.

Songs of Greeting, Healing And Heritage by Mantombi Matotiyana use of traditional formula gives a clean-cut performance using solo instruments to create contemporary music.

It is often said that Africans sing when they are happy; they sing when they are sad; and sing even when there’s no occasion too. Mantombi Matotiyana’s offering is the sound of the Eastern Cape and offers the musical background to the coloured rural homesteads and scenic undulating hills.

There is something real about being in conversation with Mantombi Matotiyana.

She is as genuine as the same hills and landscape, for which she sings praises when asked about her whereabouts and origins. She is unpretentious.

“This is my music,” she says in faultless isiXhosa, “that I began very early in life even while I was a young maiden. I danced to it. It is who I am. It is the music of my people.”

It was her way of life. She did not expect it to pay her bills. But then she met with Dizu Plaatjies, African music specialist at the University of Cape Town, who also hails from Tsolo.

“I just felt that this was part of our heritage that needed to be conserved for posterity’s sake. I wanted her talent to be documented. Many people, even those in my band, often asked what I was doing bringing her into our fold. They did not understand. Now they know,” Plaatjies says of his relationship with Matotiyana.

She speaks equally highly of Michael Blake: Inene – a decent guy, she calls him. Blake is honorary professor at SU, where the Africa Open Institute for Music, Research and Innovation is seized with the immense task of archiving, heritage and preservation of bow music. This is the first album on the African Open label, and more are planned, but African Open’s scholars are involved in digitising, archiving and preserving all kinds of South African music – jazz, popular, choral and traditional.

Songs of Greeting, Healing And Heritage – winner of the South African Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) 2020 Awards – Best Musical Composition. The works features Michael Blake, whose bias for the preservation of traditional African bow music moved him to involve a team of musicologists and industry experts from Stellenbosch University. Pic: Supplied
A true Xhosa matriarch with no formal education, she says that “there’s no place overseas where I haven’t been, only I do not know the place names”.

Her memory and tongue single out Japan. She is well travelled, taking the music of her people to other nations of the world.

Plaatjies says although this was her first solo album, Matotiyana has shared the stage and made music with giants from across world capitals.

An award-winning performer, Plaatjies has been in the music business for well over 40 years. He travels widely on music and related academic business where he has taken Matotiyana along and teaches classes at the School of Manhattan in New York and holds regular classes in such places as Paris and Geneva outside his regular beat at UCT.

He speaks authoritatively on the African indigenous music instruments that feature on Matotiyana’s album and mesh well with her voice.

Academic and novelist Sabata Mpho Mokae, who was on the judging panel, says of Matotiyana: “Through her music, in which she also plays traditional instruments such as isitolotolo and uhadi, mainstreams that would otherwise be marginal. She normalises Mpondo and Mpondomise cultures, which she carries through the language of her music, beyond the geographical location of her people.”

The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) was established in 2013 to enhance and support the Humanities and the Social Sciences (HSS) in South Africa, as well as to advise government and civil society on HSS related matters.

The NIHSS’s mission is to value every human life equally, encourage ordinary South Africans to grapple with the deeper questions of who we are, where we come from and how we relate and, above all, protect the privilege we have to shed new light and create a different body of knowledge that’s true to our unique and diverse context.

The vision of the Institute is to become the epicentre of scholarship, pedagogy, community practice and social responsibility for the humanities and social sciences, not only in South Africa but also in Africa. Achieving this vision means significant acceleration of the development of a new generation of scholars, with emphasis on throughput and on releasing new energy and momentum in HSS knowledge creation.

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