News / Africa

Unique South African Musical Creation Sets Souls on Fire

Darren Taylor
This is Part Six of a six-part series on South African Vocalists 
Continue to Parts: 
    1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Two South African classical musicians have created a musical production that’s being hailed around the world. Opera singer Zanne Stapelberg and pianist Kathleen Tagg are the architects of the show, called Soul of Fire – by some critical accounts one of the most remarkable musical productions ever to have come from South Africa.

​The performance blends Spanish folk songs with vibrant tango, jazz and flamenco from Latin America. It mixes opera music from Spain with classical art songs from some of the world’s most famous composers.

When they perform, say Tagg and Stapelberg, it’s as if they’re transported into a magical realm where sound is color. The audience was under their spell at a recent concert at the Chapel of St. Mary and All the Angels in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Zanne Stapelberg,one of the most powerful operatic voices ever to emerge from Africa, [Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg]Zanne Stapelberg,one of the most powerful operatic voices ever to emerge from Africa, [Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg]
x
Zanne Stapelberg,one of the most powerful operatic voices ever to emerge from Africa, [Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg]
Zanne Stapelberg,one of the most powerful operatic voices ever to emerge from Africa, [Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg]
“At times like these, the audience becomes one giant, organic being,” Stapelberg told VOA. Or, rather, “a beast,” feeding on the melodic electricity generated by the band.
 
“Everyone in the room is living and breathing and feeling the vibration of the music in the air,” said Tagg. “For me the most amazing thing is when you are in the quietest moments of the music and you actually hear and feel the silence as a heaviness.”
 
Pain as well as joy
 
The band consists of top South African violinist Piet de Beer, upright and double bass specialist Charles Lazar, master percussionist Joseph Avergal…and the duel heart and soul of the group, soprano Stapelberg and pianist and arranger Tagg.

Premier New-York based South African pianist Kathleen Tagg, co-creater of Soul of Fire (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Tagg)Premier New-York based South African pianist Kathleen Tagg, co-creater of Soul of Fire (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Tagg)
x
Premier New-York based South African pianist Kathleen Tagg, co-creater of Soul of Fire (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Tagg)
Premier New-York based South African pianist Kathleen Tagg, co-creater of Soul of Fire (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Tagg)
​ Explaining her attraction to the sounds of Spain and Latin America, Stapelberg said, “I love the fact that it’s extremely expressive, it’s very vivid, it’s passionate, it’s so intense. Literally, my heart breaks every time I sing it; I’m finished; I want to die it’s so beautiful. And we both feel like that about this music and I think that’s why it works for us. We really love it with all our hearts and we are obsessed with it!”

Both the singer and the pianist believe that music is the “communication of joy,” yet they’re also captivated by the pain evoked by the music they’re making.
 
“Sometimes it’s incredibly beautiful to feel sorrow, or to just wallow in it. It’s necessary,” said Tagg. Stapelberg added, “I love wallowing in sadness. It’s a big turn-on for me.”
 
Another attraction for the vocalist, who keenly embraces theatricality, is the “sheer, over-the-top drama” of much Spanish and Latin American music.
 
She explained, “There’s an amazing singer, [Spanish operatic soprano] Montserrat Caballe, one of the most famous opera singers of all time. She once said, ‘When I’m onstage there’s drama, when I’m offstage there’s drama.’ So I found the best way for me to keep the drama [of my life] onstage was to sing as much Spanish music as possible, because then I can sort of vent all the drama.”
 
Rock chicks
 
Both Stapelberg and Tagg are internationally acclaimed artists, performing around the world; both shun scripts and are respected as experimenters who innovate rather than imitate, who interpret rather than duplicate.
 
“We’re classical musicians but we…have the souls of rockers. We’re actually like rock chicks,” said Stapelberg, laughing. “So it’s nice to sort of take that kind of vibe and then put it into a classical frame and put that on stage and into the studio.”

Zanne Stapelberg: in love with the bright sounds and colors of Spain and Latin America (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)Zanne Stapelberg: in love with the bright sounds and colors of Spain and Latin America (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
x
Zanne Stapelberg: in love with the bright sounds and colors of Spain and Latin America (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
Zanne Stapelberg: in love with the bright sounds and colors of Spain and Latin America (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
The vocalist has indeed made a career of defying expectations of her as an opera singer. She sometimes chugs a beer onstage. She has collaborated with stars of kwaito, a manic, often foul-mouthed variant of house music that originated in South African townships in the 1990s. She has melded cabaret and opera into an alloy some critics have labeled “operacabaret,” at times contributing further to the music’s eccentricity by blowing a saxophone.
 
Soul of Fire is a continuation of Stapelberg’s refusal to be pigeonholed by convention and the confines of traditional classical music. “I hope that I can be a classical trailblazer, in a way,” she said.
 
Judging from her recent shows, Stapelberg is hurling classical music and opera into the laps of audiences that previously wouldn’t have listened to the genres – while maintaining their integrity.
 
“Now I’m performing in little theaters here and there. It’s not just in an opera house anymore, where people put on their furs and their diamonds and only clap seven times. It’s a whole different vibe,” she said.
 
Bending sound
 
Stapelberg has taken Tagg on this journey of shattering molds – not that the pianist, who contributed music to the Oscar-winning movie Black Swan, is a reluctant traveler. “Soul of Fire is music outside of the box,” she said with a smile, eyes glinting.

Theatricality and "over the top drama" are always evident in Stapelberg's work (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)Theatricality and "over the top drama" are always evident in Stapelberg's work (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
x
Theatricality and "over the top drama" are always evident in Stapelberg's work (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
Theatricality and "over the top drama" are always evident in Stapelberg's work (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
Tagg added, “My biggest obsession in life is working with sound colors. And the possibilities in this music are just so enormous and what you can do and the way you can bend time and bend sound.”
 
The passport to this “bending” into diverse forms is the musicians’ varied backgrounds. Stapelberg, Tagg and de Beer are classically trained; Lazar is primarily a jazz bassist and Avergal’s forte is world music.
 
“So we’re asking everyone to sort of bleed into each other’s styles,” said Stapelberg.
 
If the singer’s versatile voice is the canvas for Soul of Fire, then Tagg is the glue holding it together.
 
“For me the amazing thing about Kathy is that nothing is impossible [to her]. Musically she can just go anywhere and everywhere,” Stapelberg said of her New York City-based compatriot. “She gets inspiration and then she knows what to do with it. As a musician she’s not only a pianist, she’s really a gifted arranger as well. In Soul of Fire we do 12 different songs. She arranged eight of those; they are brand new, fresh arrangements.”
 
A dark story
 
One of those revitalized arias is a rearrangement of La Sombra de Maria, or The Shadow of Maria, by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, from his opera Maria de Buenos Aires, or Maria of Buenos Aires.
 
“That’s a hectic piece,” said Stapelberg. “Maria de Buenos Aires is a very dark story; it’s about a prostitute living in the slums of Buenos Aires. And this song that she sings is just crazy; she’s completely obsessed and off her head.”

Critics are praising Soul of Fire for its intensity (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)Critics are praising Soul of Fire for its intensity (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
x
Critics are praising Soul of Fire for its intensity (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
Critics are praising Soul of Fire for its intensity (Photo courtesy Zanne Stapelberg)
Much like the singer and Tagg, Maria is seduced by the music of the tango. She is driven insane, and when she dies, she’s condemned to a hell which is the city itself, and her shadow wanders the streets.
 
In Soul of Fire, Stapelberg and Tagg bring the phantom to life, venting Maria’s fury.
 
The performance shows their love of extremes. They choose intense songs with rhythm, lyrics and themes that easily rival those of the most vicious death metal music bands.
 
 “This music,” said Tagg, “is not for the faint of heart.”
 
Listen to report on Soul of Fire
Listen to report on Soul of Firei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

US Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid