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Interview Prince Lengoasa 05/03/2015

I met Victor in '86 when he was busy with a project called “Inxumela” at the SABC in Commissioners Street. I was introduced to him then. Following that I played in his band from 1987. I was raised in the Salvation Army, so from a young age, I studied music and conducting. I went to the States in 1982 to study some other stuff, including conducting, voice and leading bands. But that is in a classical context or in a Salvation Army context. I went to Dorkay House as well to learn from people giving theory classes. In 1989, Victor did a three month course in arranging and composition that I attended with other people. A song that he had given as an assignment, was tackled and shredded to pieces and put together and now is a song I dedicate to him called Isandla Amadoda. So my journey has been lots of other things, teaching in schools and continuing my journey in teaching at the Salvation Army. I have done a number of projects with Oupa Salemane at the Jazz Foundation; conducting orchestra's, a 65 piece orchestra where we did the music of Pharaoh Saunders, where we did the music of Mankunku, a number of people. There is things that happen. You don't realise that every day prepares you for something bigger. In that sense, my journey is ongoing and now I find myself from the track record that I have as a band leader, conductor, arranger, being called into this project to take some of Bra Vics' responsibility. As it turns out for me that four people should be doing his job. It is interesting to be able to put this together and be part of this ensemble, so I see there is a journey where he had a dream of starting an ensemble that would be like a school where younger generation would learn from the older generation. In this ensemble we have Barney Rachabane who has been playing for over 50 years. And a 22 year old who has just started off. You have an inter generational learning. My journey is ongoing.

A bit of background to the ensemble?

It was Bra Vic's dream. He has been doing a number of gigs over time. This particular project, Mzansi sings a tribute to O.R. has been done for a number of years. I know I was part of it a number of years ago, going to London to perform at the Barbican. He wanted to have an ensemble where continually people would be doing his music, other people's music, really paying tribute to South African music as such. Now is an opportunity even when he has gone to make his dream a reality. And his wife Linda is instrumental in putting this ensemble together.

Will it operate like a school?

Yes, the idea is that as people get into other work, to have other people replace them and for us to teach one another along the way, because South African music is so big, there is so much to be done that it is not going to take one year for all this music to be heard. For this year we have a number of gigs that are going to happen. We are doing the State Theatre, we are going to the Soweto theatre, we are going to Durban. So, pretty much there is an ongoing thing. The idea is as we go along, the reality as people go into other gigs then other people get into the institution and they learn what is happening and we take it forward like that. This is the first year. This is the first phase of the ensemble. The ensemble has been running over time, not usually as we do when we come together to do a gig and then it is done. But now there is a more consistent outlook to the whole project where at least you are guaranteed work for six months. And you see what happens there after.

Did Victor come up with the title?

Yes. Mzansi as in the South. The South ensemble does this particular project. Now, Mzansi pays tribute to Victor Ntoni. And what we are doing at the show at the State Theatre, we are playing the music of Victor Ntoni; stuff he has arranged, his own compositions. Some of the music has never been heard. He put it from his heart and head onto paper and it has been transcribed, we are interpreting it. There is a thing called Codessa files. It is a beautiful piece of music. It has never been heard before. He never heard it played by band. We are looking at things like that where we bring to life his dream.

Glen was saying it is going to be part of his film as well …

Yes, the component that Glen is responsible for is making a film about Victor Ntoni. The idea is to do a film on the life of Victor to see. I am sure they are going to be taking clips from some stuff they have done before, culminating in a combination of things that we are doing on his music.

Barney has his own visions for music education, how does the school accommodate these masters in the long term vision?

With the 22 year old alto saxophonist who is in the band, when Barney plays, he doesn't have to say this is how it is done. He does it and he is learning. All of us are learning. He does stuff that makes you think. The teaching is practical. You are seeing the changes and you are listening to the stuff as he is doing and you are thinking wow, that is actually applicable to that. That is how the ensemble is going to work. We do want to as well have master classes.

Are there some young talents we need to look at coming through?

There is a lot of young talent. In the trumpet section you have the youngest member of the ensemble, Siya Zwane. He is 22. He has his own story a very moving story of a young man who has recovered from taking drugs and he is trying to get his life straight. And he is a genius in terms of his instrument. He is finding his feet again. And what a situation to be in where daily you are surrounded by seasoned musicians who can say to you they know all the pit falls of the industry and can say look at for this, look out for that.

This is a gospel floor…

The people who own this space, built this room especially for us. They brought down some of the walls so we have a rehearsal space. There is a lady who is a singer in the ensemble, her husband owns one of the studios here. There is a relationship in that sense. Linda knows them from other circles. She felt that Mega Music is too congested. When you are busy with rehearsals people keep coming in because they also have a rehearsal next door. But here you have your own space and can chill and really work on what needs to be done.

Will you play?

I will have to play from time to time. Take a couple of solos. Primarily I am the artistic and musical director. It is really to keep the boat afloat and get all of the components that are involved to harmonise. And when it is cool, I will always take a solo here and there. It means some of my talents are going to be wasted if I don't participate in that sense.

 

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Do you have other projects?

I teach at Parktown boys. I teach the brass band there. This weekend we have a preparation for Old Boys. We are going away Friday to Sunday to the Vaal to work on some music. I am involved in musical sections in my church, Salvation Army and I am band master for a number of bands around. I have my own quintet called Prince Lengoasa and the Ambassadors of Peace. It is made up of young cats. Beautiful rhythm section and myself and Percival who plays tenor saxophone. My daughter sings in the band when she is around. She is at UCT. There are a number of things that I am doing musically, trying to record a CD at the end of the year. My own compositions and we do other people's music as well. Primarily I am trying to get my own music out there. I have played in over 30 local CD's of different people, so why shouldn't I make my own. Whenever I play people say, ‘where is the CD'. It is about time I recorded my own CD as well.

Your compositions can't be heard?

They can be heard on other people's CD's. I did a song with McCoy when his daughter passed on because of an unhappy situation that happened there. Sibongile has recorded one of my songs Ubongo. There are a number of songs that are out there. I would like for people to hear even more of those. It will happen soon.

I will see you in Durban …

When we do Durban we will be paying tribute to Durban based musicians, people like Sandile Shange and a number of people. So the project keeps changing face in terms of the music.

In terms of compositions are you finding it easy to locate them?

Well it is not so easy but there is a process that is being followed to try ad track down things. For many situations it means listening to records and transcribing things. For some people compositions are readily available. They can give you a chart and you can go and work on it. But for some you have to transcribe which is an unfortunate thing which mean s you have to rewrite what is already there and work on it.

Thank you…

Thank you…

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