A New Partnership with Umoya Creations

February 12, 2024 - By 

If you were already a member of ChoirCommunity in May last year, you probably received an e-shot from us with news about a project we were working on to investigate the true provenance of the many of the unattributed songs which we have arranged and published from the African continent.

We have continued to work on this with Umoya Creations, a South-African charity set up to bring healing, education and reconciliation to people affected by Apartheid, set up and run by the International Percussionist, Composer and Workshop Leader, Eugene Skeef.

It has been a fascinating journey of discovery and we are very excited to announce the partnership with Umoya Creations which has come out of the work.  Firstly though, a little bit of background…

World Music and The Public Domain

The Public Domain in choral music has been largely accepted as a “free for all” pick and mix ocean of material where the original writer is either unknown or has been deceased for at least 75 years, hence the copyright can be claimed by anyone presenting or arranging the music for others to use.

Many of these “Public Domain” songs are folk songs from all over the world, and usually they have been around so long and passed on in the oral tradition that there is no known writer of words and music. It is a fair assumption that these writers will never be discovered and therefore they are free game for arrangers to claim copyright on their versions.

When it comes to songs from Africa (and perhaps South Africa in particular) there is often a different story to uncover.  A question came up recently about the translation of the song “Maliswe!”.  Craig’s arrangement had been performed on the Young Voices Tour and it had gone down very well, especially in the USA where it was taken up by a number of schools and colleges who programmed it into their regional concerts. The actual meaning of the words were unclear and there was so little information online, we had assumed this was a traditional song that had been passed down like all those other folk songs mentioned earlier.

Craig started by asking the person who taught him the song and it led to a number of trails, all of which were also unclear not only of the meaning of the song but also the actual language itself.  Two of these trails led him to contact the international Percussionist, Composer and Animateur Eugene Skeef, who he had had the pleasure of consulting when performing a Nelson Mandela tribute medley in 2015. What Eugene told Craig both blew his mind and opened up a well of questions and opportunities which we have been exploring since.

The song Maliswe is in disguise. It is about claiming back the land which has been stolen and is an Anti-Apartheid song deliberately written in a code language so that only the people singing it understand its full meaning and no one can get into trouble for writing it because they are anonymous. It was realised that they may even still be alive today.

As a result of this story and others, we have been looking at ways in which we could possibly uncover the true provenance of many of these songs, and perhaps pay some form of royalty to an appropriate source.  This has ultimately proved too difficult for a number of reasons, but has in turn opened up a new initiative which we are launching this month.

Umoya Creations

Umoya Creations was established to bring music and arts education, reconciliation and development through the arts to regions where people suffer from deprivation, physical and emotional damage and poverty.
 The organisation provides these opportunities for young people by helping them to discover their creative potential and use it to empower and advance themselves and their communities.

The charity has helped countless numbers of young people find a voice and a vocation through creativity and music, and embark on a life which otherwise would not have been open to them.    One of the many projects which Umoya is running is a series of creative workshops dedicated to developing the innate communication and performance skills of industrious young musicians to enable them to take the baton and conduct educational workshops in their communities.  One of the young people identifies for this programme is Babuyile Shabalala, the founding leader of Young Mbazo, a Durban-based group that specialises in Isicathamiya, the soft-stepping Zulu a cappella style made famous by his grandfather Joseph Shabalala’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The ChoirCommunity / Umoya Partnership

After a process of due dilligence, including a full proposal and review process, ChoirCommunity have agreed to offer a significant grant towards this programme, funded by the royalties earned from the arrangements of African music on the website.  This has been back-dated to the launch of ChoirCommunity in 2018 and will continue going forward.  It is hoped that additional music created out of the partnership with Umoya Creations will be added to this collection to strengthen this partnership and support additional programmes in the future.

If you’re interested in discovering the songs which form this collection, they are listed below (Click on any of the song names to preview the arrangements):

A Keelie Makolay – Craig McLeish
Bambalela – Craig McLeish
Freedom Is Coming – Craig McLeish
Ipharadisi – Craig McLeish
Maliswe – Craig McLeish
Mambo Sawa Sawa – Craig McLeish
Shosholoza – Craig McLeish
Bambalela (Never Give Up) – Gitika Partington
Iqude – Gitika Partington
Singahambayo Thina – Gitika Partington
Si Ya Hamba – Sam Burns


1 Comment
  • This is so beautiful and emboldening. Thanks.

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