Music Director and Composer John Pfumojena talks about ‘Amina Kadeya EP’ Launch Event with Tangle Theatre
Marking a year since Tangle Theatre’s opening of Ben Jonson’s Jacobean classic Volpone, the Amina Kadeya EP offers a musical extension of the show’s Zimbabwean Jazz fused score. Sadly cut short by the Covid pandemic, the show’s Musical Director and Composer John Pfumojena, alongside friend and long-time collaborator sax player Tawanda Mapanda have help to realise Volpone’s soundtrack for a digital stage. Ahead of the EP launch event, John tells us more about creating work during lockdown, a featured conversation presented by Tangle Theatre’s Chair of the Board Kofi Ohene-Djan between himself and Artistic Director Anna Coombs about the collaborative process and what to expect from the event.
Hi John, Tangle Theatre will present the launch of Amina Kadeya EP – a special adaptation of the Zimbabwean Jazz fusion score originally created and featured in the 2020 staging of Ben Jonson’s play Volpone. How are you feeling ahead of the event?
It’s a relief in some way to be able to share something from a show we all didn’t manage to complete because of the obvious. I’m frustrated at the blow to the live performance industry due to Covid and worried that the sector may lose so many amazingly talented artistes. But I’m also hopeful that as we play our part in continuing to share work digitally, the creative zeal in all of us remains.
The launch marks a year since the show’s opening last year, which was sadly cut short due to the pandemic. How did you collaborate with Tangle Theatre to realise the show’s musical element?
Thankfully we had already recorded the instrumental aspect of this project prior to the show embarking on its UK tour. Through careful consideration and vigorous risk assessment and safety measures, I was able to fulfil a recording of the vocals with Drew. It was always clear that all the team at Tangle wished in some way to share the music that had been created. The team worked so hard to make this happen, and a special mention does go to Drew for his organisation, skill, expertise and talent.
During lockdown, you created standalone versions of songs created for the show. What was it like revisiting the songs during that unpredictable time?
A mix of feelings. Firstly the perfectionist kicks in: “we need to start from scratch, this is so horrible”. Then a recalibration to the creative juices and contributions that brought us to the place we had left off. Also it was like opening a time capsule of something that never happened but seemed to have had a whole life span. It was also, weirdly, satisfying to remember that the work (creation) had been done (created). Nostalgic, as I remembered working with the actors back then to mild the songs around them. Delightful.
You also collaborated with friend and long-time collaborator sax player Tawanda Mapanda on the Amina Kadeya EP, what did the process for this involve?
Tawanda Mapanda is one of the most intelligent and highly skilled musicians I have ever come across and worked with. And he is my friend. We attended the same high school (Prince Edward School) in Zimbabwe. Tawanda had been in England at the time for an R&D of my own project. And I knew I wanted to take advantage of our long-time chemistry and to have an extra Zimbabwean influence. Creatively, it became effortless for what we wanted to create – a playful yet simple and easy-going score.
The launch, presented by Tangle Theatre’s Chair of the Board Kofi Ohene-Djan will see you in conversation with Artistic Director Anna Coombs about music in African theatre, the ancient art of Mbira music and how you worked together to adapt Ben Jonson’s Volpone amongst other topics. What does this mean for you in terms of reflecting on your work and being able to discuss the creative process further?
It’s a valuable opportunity to do what I’ve always set out to do: Champion, promote and share my Zimbabwean artistic aesthetic. It means also reflecting on the times when we could meet in a room and just make work; to reflect on the processes, and perhaps consider to what level we can ever replace that. This is an important aspect for me, as Zimbabwean music/culture is communal, improvisational and stems from oral tradition. Unlike western music, which will provide sheet music that can be practised in isolation – the southern African experience of creation relies on energy and improvisation and play in the same vicinity.
What can audiences expect from the event?
Audiences can expect to be in touch with Tangle’s Volpone production in a small way, almost as a token or a gift from our production. Audiences can learn more about the place from whence my inspiration as a Zimbabwean composer cometh. And they can interact with art, though digitally, but interact nevertheless.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the event?
An expectation to see more Zimbabwean and cross-culture collaborative work through out England.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
The Aminya Kadeya EP Launch Event takes place on Thursday 25th February online. To find out more and book tickets, visit here…
You can book tickets via Eventbrite also here…
On Thursday 25thFebruary, a Q & A session took place via Zoom between Tangle Theatre’s Artistic Director Anna Coombs and Musical Director and Composer John Pfumojena. Hosted by Kofi Ohene-Djan, the pair discussed their collaborative process, with Anna wanting to bring Zimbabwean influences to the classic English text and Anna inspired by John’s instinct, intuition and confidence. The global impact of Jazz music was discussed, and how cultures interpret the genre. When John talked about Mrimba, he talked of polyrhythms, descriptive language and improvisations, all of these staples of the Zimbabwean Jazz form. Anna’s honesty and frankness about the show having to close after the announcement of the first lockdown is relatable, and interesting to look back on a year later, the announcements of the closure of theatres disheartening. Backing tracks for the show had been made, but without vocals so lockdown offered a chance for John to work on the music further, the show’s sound engineer Drew Baumohl adding that the music builds something to archive and contributes a permanent element of the show. The music serves as a time capsule for the unique year experienced and is available to listen to here…