“Use your imagination and you can make music with anything”, says musicologist Pedro Espi-Sanchis:
“From earliest times, people used sound to make life lighter to bear. Getting as many sounds as possible out of a piece of kelp is an example of ancient creativity. Along the shoreline of the Cape Peninsula, the earliest hunters and gatherers might have used dried seaweed to make what today we call a vuvuzela. In many cultures, people have used their inventiveness to make sounds from found objects – much like the Zulu who create flutes from the stems of paw paws.
Nowadays, we’ve forgotten how to be playful because we have so many choices, especially the choice of plugging something into a socket. Even in rural Africa, children have forgotten how to play traditional instruments. In African music, everybody is expected to contribute. Compare
this to the Western approach, where only highly skilled experts are musicians. Irish ethnomusicologist John Blacking claimed in How Musical Is Man? that in Western culture, the majority of the population is deliberately kept unmusical so that a few musicians can make a living. My job as a musical educator is to enable adults and children to access music as quickly as possible and to decrease the distance between music and people.
The cardinal sin when teaching music is to make it boring. Music should never be boring. Musical education in the West shoots itself in the foot by immediately teaching students the high, classical tradition rather than applying a process of playfulness and creativity to music. You don’t ask kids to draw a Picasso on their first day of school. No, you give them a blank page and say go for it. So, why ask children to play Mozart when you introduce them to music? Classical music should be an elective choice made after a few years of being creative with music. I introduce people to musical instruments that are easy, cheap and limitless. I’ve been playing a seaweed flute for twenty years and I’m still nowhere near the end of its possibilities. It produces a Lydian scale and I can play Celtic, traditional African and jazz music on it.”
When the instrument is simple, you have to stretch your imagination further to make as many sounds as possible. I teach according to an age-old African music-making system where each person has only one note to play. Each note combines with the others in the group to create melodies and chords. It’s fun and expands your social skills and sense of solidarity. When you have only one note, you must listen to others and think how to co-operate. And yet you learn to be creative because you need to play your own part without copying anyone else. This kind of music is nonthreatening in the same way play is. There’s no right or wrong way to be imaginative.
My most ambitious project to date is a plan to turn the World Cup audience into the biggest ever vuvuzela orchestra. At present the call and response pattern of the vuvuzelas create a cacophony in B flat. What is needed is to co-ordinate all the vuvuzelas in the stadium, led by a couple of trumpets.
It’s a good idea that just needs a bit of determination to pull off. Pedro Espi-Sanchis is well known for his popular television series ‘Pedro the Music Man’. He established the African music programme at UCT and directs the Vuvuzela Orchestra in Langa.