‘The White Claw Grabbing the Black Man’s Creative Work’: Dominant Culture and African Expression, One Festival and Two World Premieres

  • Jeffrey Brukman


South African composer, Todd Matshikiza, well-known for his musical creation of African jazz opera/musical King Kong, fashioned a varied oeuvre that included a capella choral repertoire in the (South) African choral tradition; Mkhumbane, a three-act musical representing township life; and a brace of miscellaneous works. This article deals with Uxolo! (1956), a work Matshikiza wrote for Johannesburg’s seventieth anniversary celebrations. It explores white South Africa’s reception (or lack thereof) of the work, and the reaction of conductor Gilbert Harris to Matshikiza’s African-inspired compositional creativity. Emblematic of those propagating Western art music’s superiority, Harris’s reaction is considered in relation to Western cultural dominance, including the askance view adopted by many Western musicians when considering compositions notated in tonic sol-fa
notation. Apartheid politics located in the arrangement of a separate musical celebration for blacks (where Uxolo! premiered) are considered in relation to the ‘white’ concert which featured two internationally recognised British musicians, conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent and composer William Walton. Combining historical research and close musical analysis, I explore how Matshikiza’s African expression and aesthetic agency are challenged, and eclipsed, by 1950s apartheid cultures.


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eISSN: 0258-509X