Masote’s Dream

Seen on July 11, 2015 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

A family is eating in a shed. The movement of knives and forks on a plate. The lightbulb switches on and off. The conversation of parents. Everywhere there is music to be heard in the ears of young Mathawla Michael Masote until beautiful melodies are scattered by a storm. Deeply moved when the 11 year old hears the Jewish violinist Yehudin Menuhin play in Soweto he wants to pursue the dream of playing as well. That performance was in support for the people living in shantytowns destroyed by bulldozers to create a new white suburb. This story about one of SA most iconic classical musicians is driven by the beautiful music of a live string quartet and the singing and performing of 9 actors and musicians to tell the story of one man.

Young Masote learns how to play the violin by holding two wooden planks. One day his father comes home with a bow and an empty violin case upon which a police attack in the neighbourhood takes place. A giant buste of a policeman with a strong Afrikaner accent shows up at the most unconvenient moments showing off power. A great admirer donates a real violin. This girl is soon to become Masote’s wife. Doors move across the stage as Masote is looking for a violin teacher. Most white ones do not even bother or see the use of teaching a black man music. Only one allows to come back on Monday and work with his gardener. Even the wedding gets disturbed by the security police looking for illegal meetings and opponents of the regime. On the day of duty he meets the gardner and both of them listen to European music, musing of Schuman that considered every key equal on the piano, black and white. Against all odds Masote is pursuing his dream to play music. Eventually the piano player observes his ear for music and gives lessons and encourages Masote to attend the rehearsal of an orchestra. That he is not there to clean, but to be swiped away by the music is not easy to communicate. The beautiful music contrasts with the atrocities done to students during the uprisings and protests.

More intimidation by the police and an arrest on being more than 5 blacks in a room lead him into jail where he composed songs in the dark that lead to a magnificent finale when the work is released in its full power.

Masote’s dream is not only an utterly human story about how beauty triumphs ugliness and joy in darkness, but its form as musical theatre is very compelling as the live music drives the narrative forward and the visuals are very surprising in the play. The moment when the policeman appeared first on stage surprised even the audience. Acting, singing and music bring moment after moment of beauty in a dark place. That attuned ear for beauty and the courage of a man to pursue his dream.

Not mentioned in the play was Masote’s formation of an all black orchestra during the apartheid days to fight the racist regime. This later became the Soweto Youth Orchestra, now named the Soweto Symphony Orchestra that also gave birth to the Soweto.string Quartet. Dutch director Dagmar Slagmolen, specialised in telling stories in which the narrative is driven by music met Masote last year she wanted to tell the story. She teamed up with his son Kutlwano and Orkater company to tell a hauntingly beautiful story.

Masote’s Dream was premiered at the National Arts Festival and is on show at the Soweto Theatre in the coming weeks.

Directed by Dagmar Slagmolen

Played by: Thapelo Mohapi Oora Motsikoe, Nontsikelelo Ndzume, Neo Tinyiko Phambuka, Nhlanhla Xipu, Kgaugelo Mpyane, Boitumelo Ntantiso, Lesley Jennings, Mlungisi Zulu, Desmond Polank