Mandla Mlangeni evokes the restless spirit of 1976 students in new album

Mandla Mlangeni. Picture: Siphiwe Mhlambi

Mandla Mlangeni. Picture: Siphiwe Mhlambi

Published May 27, 2023


Jazz trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni is launching his latest project, “Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth”, a powerful musical reflection on the 1976 student protests and the #FeesMustFall movement.

The multi-genre production will be on stage at the Wits Great Hall on Saturday, May 27 at 7pm.

Released ahead of Youth Month and rooted in the complex legacy of Black Consciousness, “Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth” re-imagines jazz through the lens of poetry and classical musings while evoking the restless spirit of student resistance.

Mlangeni told IOL Entertainment that the production is a creative pairing of art, music and poetry that seeks to be the springboard for the production and execution of bold new ideas for re-imagining spaces for creative discourse.

“‘The Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth’ resonates with the spirit of where South Africa finds itself, at a crossroads of confronting its malignant past to heal from the trauma of generational dispossession and the realities of a voiceless majority with little to celebrate in the post-apartheid era,” said Mlangeni.

“Our project expands on the interdisciplinary piece that has been performed in different formats in recent years, to anchor it in the collective memory by means of physical objects that will serve as archival memories.

“This will be articulated through the creation of a book and vinyl record to accompany the album.

“The performance promises to be a powerful and emotionally proactive show of musicality and artistic ingenuity.”

Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth. Picture: Siphiwe Mhlambi

Directed by Mlangeni, “Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth” was first staged at the Artscape Opera House in 2019.

“The oratorio was inspired by my involvement in large-scale productions as youth. Being part of classic productions such as Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ and ‘Mandela Trilogy’ by the Cape Town Opera planted a seed in me, to develop something of a similar nature that breathes life into the stories that wanted to share with the world on such a grand scale.

“And from the onset, it has always been a collaborative endeavour. This time around, the production will culminate together with an album launch and a grand performance of Jozi’s strongest forces within the jazz, classical and indigenous music scenes.”

The musical extravaganza and the six-track album feature the acclaimed cultural group Amandla Freedom Ensemble, of which Mlangeni is the band leader.

Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth. Picture: Siphiwe Mhlambi

“The Amandla Freedom Ensemble, in many ways aimed to echo its forebearer the Amandla Cultural Ensemble by the dearly departed Ntate Jonas Gwangwa.

“The ensemble pays homage to the struggle and triumph against the yoke of apartheid and seeks to share a more personalised and nuanced experience of where we as musicians find ourselves today.

“The music we make reflects the pain, anguish and hope we have. It seeks to breathe new life into what we term liberation music by asking the most pertinent questions that persist 29 into our newly found democracy.

“Are we truly free? And if we are what can we show for it?”

The show also features The Brother Moves On, the Vivacious Sounds choir, award-winning poet Lesego Rampolokeng, the Resonance String Quartet, pianist and scholar Yonela Mnana, and sand artist Tawanda MuAfrika.

For Mlangeni, “The Oratorio” is a deeply personal project, “the product of South Africa’s 1986 State of Emergency”.

“I witnessed first-hand the brutality of the regime when I lost my father to a booby-trapped cassette tape in 1991,” recalled Mlangeni.

“Nevertheless, the physical and psychological scars were not enough to dissuade me and many others from buying into the new South Africa.

“My own personal history serves as the anchor in making the realisation of ‘Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth’ both a rigorous academic research and performance endeavour.

“In addition to my long-held passion for jazz and classical music compositions, our collaboration with literary giant Lesego Rampolokeng for the Oratorio’s libretto gives meaning to a deeply personal journey towards acknowledging the Black Consciousness tradition.”

The album is available on all major digital platforms. It will so be available to purchase on vinyl and CD at the concert.

Tickets are available at Quicket for R150.