Student Aimée George over Neo’s werk en residentie

Neo Muyanga

De Zuid-Afrikaanse Student Musicologie aan de Universiteit Utrecht, Aimée George, was aanwezig bij de voorbereiding en de presentatie van de ‘Meet the maker’ sessie van Neo Muyanga bij de Universiteit Utrecht. Ze is, mede door hun gedeelde afkomst, zeer geboeid door Neo’s werk en in de thema’s in zijn werk. Een paar dagen na de ‘Meet the maker’ sessie werd ze door Neo uitgenodigd in het Museum Speelklok voor een workshop rondom de muziekdozen, waar Neo een compositie voor maakte.
Aimée reflecteerd op het bezoek van Neo aan Utrecht. Hoe heeft zij het ervaren?

Reflectie op Neo Muyanga’s work & residency, door Aimée George

On May 17th at the Meet the Makers event, esteemed South African composer Neo Muyanga shared the intellectual and creative process behind his production ‘A Maze in Grace’ which first premiered at the 34th São Paolo Art Biennale, one of Brazil’s most cutting-edge agitation theatres and black rights collectives. In this living exhibition, he poses questions around the complex history behind the famed hymn “Amazing Grace,” and its’ origins, using the work as a platform from which he explores multifaceted notions around solidarity. In presenting this work to intrigued students, lecturers and guests, Neo asks that we consider how we engage in conflict and discomfort, and the tools we use to do so, suggesting that we sing, we music, but more importantly, that we do so together.

As a born-free coloured South African woman, newly integrated in Dutch culture and interested in researching contemporary South African musical genres and subcultures, I am often faced with the task of having to dissect South African identity. This, as you can imagine, is no small fleet, and virtually impossible. South African-ness cannot be pinned down, our politically divided history does not allow for one single representation of South African citizenship. Our celebrated diversity comes as a result of our gross colonial (and then, apartheid) past, which has plagued our nation with destructive systemic notions of difference that incite conflict – and in many ways, continues to do so. Nonetheless, one of the ways in which we have always dealt with this is through music. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that music, particularly singing and the use of choirs, has always been one of the tenets of South African identity. This falls directly in line with Neo’s philosophy and is a consistent theme throughout his career as he uses choirs or combined voices as means of effectively dealing with issues of difference and conflict harmoniously, and in harmony.

Neo eloquently details his approach to musicking and its relationship with memory recuperation, particularly diasporic memories, as a political act. His work centres around the retelling of history, and its’ relevance in today’s tumultuous climate with a strong focus on not only the black experience, but the human experience. Neo urges us to come together to music, to sing about the complexities of humanity, using the combination of voices and the notion of togetherness as an integral platform for conflict resolution, conservation, and catharsis.

In the following days, Neo invites us to play together at the breathtaking Museum Speelklok where he spent time composing and programming music boxes. In a combined effort, and with Neo as our conductor and pianist, we gather round to play, sounding familiar musical idioms. Almost moved to tears, I realized that this had been the first time I had “played” with others since arriving in Utrecht in September of 2022. It had been the first time I was able to set aside my differences, my inner conflicts and engage musically, and humanly, with others. A truly therapeutic moment, that now acts as an emblem of sustenance and a stark reminder of how pertinent “togetherness,” and musicking sits at the core of my being as both a South African and citizen of the world. For me, Neo’s work is two-fold in that it solidifies and sounds the nostalgic tenets of South African identity whilst simultaneously bringing into question the multilayered political and cultural complexities of that very same identity as it comes into contact and into conflict with the other facets of my life. Nonetheless, Neo’s work and his ability to contextualize this work is thought-provoking and highly impactful as it sparks debate around how all go about our facing our new realities.