Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano

based on a herding song ‘Ngororombe’ played by Kajori on a Mujanji flute recorded by Andrew Tracey in the Mutoko district (Zimbabwe) in 1972
(Commissioned by the SAMRO Endowment for the Arts for the Trio Hemenay)

On commissioning this piece, SAMRO requested that it should incorporate indigenous African musical material. I chose to base the work on a Sena Tonga herding song, recorded by Tracey in North-Eastern Zimbabwe in 1972 contained in his ‘African Music Anthology’.

A herd of cattle – somehow suggested by the herding tune – represents an original or natural form of order. Add the herder, who entertains himself on his Mujanji flute, and one is tempted to imagine a situation of Arcadian quality.

Life in rural Africa in the 1970s certainly wasn’t entirely idyllic – it obviously never was. But surely there was still more of its original charm to be found then than now, where not only colonialism, pre- and post-colonial wars and liberation struggles, the imposition of dictatorships or democracies have left their mark, but where more recently – and with the most far-reaching effects – ‘globalisation’ is also taking its toll and gradually encroaching even the remotest of areas. Compared to the irresistible lures of a materialistic Western lifestyle, traditional Arcadia seems bleak, poor and backwardly and is abandoned all too easily.

As we all are part of the contemporary world and global developments, it is difficult to surmise at what price they come and what losses they will eventually incur. There is no doubt that these will be enormous – judging merely from the destruction of natural and cultural diversity, the extinction of species etc. Yet there can also be no doubt, that they are part of an irrevocable process.

So what is the point then, of nevertheless casting a glimpse at the ‘road not taken’, as in this piece? Certainly not in order to casually exploit some foreign music as a novelty or to merely present a little sophisticated entertainment by indulging in forms of exotic expression. Instead, it is to express that, from an African point of view, the cattle in fact have gone astray, that traditional forms of social order have crumbled and, even if the process is irreversible, that it is certainly no triviality. I have no hope of (nor ambition) to bring about any sort of cultural restoration, but I would like to pay homage to African forms of musical expression, that have scarcely been perceived or appreciated before becoming virtually extinct, yet which form part of our heritage, as is nowadays belatedly acknowledged. It may perhaps amount to nothing more than a small gesture to point out an imbalance, yet it ought to be a cause for great concern.

However, there is another – more hopeful – idea suggested by the image of stray cattle: New forms of order or organization, systems or routines sometimes originate in the midst of chaos, indeed often especially there….