On Protest, Prayer and Pieces

Photo: Jan Potgieter / National Arts Festival.

Midway through the performance of his solo show, Soli(t)darity Neo Muyanga moves away from the piano, stands behind the mic at Thomas Pringle Hall and squints into the crowd. A hollowed out guitar is slung over his right shoulder. He adjusts it, repositions the mic. We’re at the part of the show where we are in the Himalayan Mountains singing love songs. Love songs to struggle. This is the exploration. A question and a prayer. What can love do here?

He jokes now, waves away some of the weight of the first half of the show as though he were clearing smoke from the room. Something about the technical staff asking about the show; how to set it up, how to light it, that kind of stuff. “Well,” he smiles. “The show is dark. Its about death. Death and murder and destruction. How do you light death and murder and destruction?” He is still smiling.

The show opens heavy. He loops and purls between Mongezi Feza’s “Ucinga Uyandazi”, weaving throughout the whole set, breaking it apart and stretching it out. He makes the song elastic, pulling it tight so that it might snap and then he holds it there, tension. Where it frays, where holes appear, he pushes into the gaps snippets of hope, of despair, of something so human it is ugly and fragile and broken.

“UMandela uthi ayihlome ihlasele,” he sings. Where is the fight, our call to war? “uSobukwe uthi ayihlome ihlasele.” Where are heroes? What did we do with their bruised bodies? What is to happen with their bones blanched clean?

The room is quiet with the weight of history. Silent in the face of violence, of dreams deferred and hopes dashed and scattered likes the ashes of those who came before us. We pull closer to ourselves, tilt towards him and away from each other. When he plays we remember that the piano is percussive. He leans over the keys and punches at the strings of the naked grand piano. He runs a thick black chain over its chords, rattling it. What can love do?

Soli(t)darity is about violence. About hope and despair. But it is also about love. About the possibilities it presents for healing. About the spaces it opens for holding. About love as protest.

by Lindokuhle Nkosi