Putco Mafani loves the National Choir Festival
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Joining us on Old Mutual Live is a voice you’ll definitely recognise. If you’ve ever watched a football game in South Africa or if you’ve ever turned the radio on to Umhlobo Wenene, Putco Mafani, welcome onto the podcast, thanks for joining us.
Putco Mafani: Thank you so much.
BB: The draw for the Old Mutual National Choir Festival today, this is a great event, the tensions really building for the National Finals and the conductors are here, there’s a lot of banter, but the guys and girls are very excited, aren’t they?
The draw is a big deal for the conductors
PM: It’s a big deal with the conductors, being in the draw and getting to pray and wish that you don’t open the stage. I think some of them have got a belief that after many choirs have been on stage, it kind of levels the ground and the audience yearns for the last choir that would be there in that particular category.
I think sometimes they come here crossing their fingers, but the moment is tense and they know that sometimes audience favourites are the last choirs. I think it’s a psychological thing. Audience favourites sometimes are not necessarily in the order of performance, but this a perception that conductors have.
They tend to think that if you’re the last one to perform, then sometimes you get a standing ovation, that kind of thing, you get an opportunity to do corrections on the previous choirs, but it’s a big deal. I’m happy for the conductors that are here. The Old Mutual National Choir Festival keeps growing every year and I think it’s going to be good for Mangaung, for Bloemfontein.
BB: Putco, you’ve been around this competition for a long time, it’s very close to your heart, what makes this one special?
It’s stood the test of time
PM: I think because this competition, I’m scared to say it has stood the test of time, less I steal a pay-off line from someone else. But over the years, evolving from when it was sponsored by Ford, Ford Choirs, then Old Mutual, Telkom and Old Mutual remained alone and it has always been the only hope of people that are in the choral music fraternity.
Because some sponsors have come and gone and some other event organisers have introduced other festivals for choirs, but those have not lived that long. This one, maybe because also it gives all provinces a chance and by merit, choirs make it to the finals, or don’t make it to the finals.
But it has always been perceived as a province against province kind of competition where other provinces are even eliminated, even on their way and some provinces don’t even get to reach the finals. For instance, this year Limpopo is not there in the finals, particularly in the large section, they’re not there.
In the standard section they’ll be represented by choirs from Zimbabwe, so I think because it’s a legendary brand, the National Choir Festival, it’s a trusted brand, the choirs, particularly individuals, choristers don’t make a lot of money from this. They’re so dedicated to it, they’re so committed it, they love it because it’s their, probably it’s their only hope.
Other music genres, people make loads and loads of money. If you talk Hip-Hop, Kwaito, House, Afro-Pop and all of those, Jazz, Gospel, Gospel is just about probably the most selling of all the genres in South Africa. But these guys, they are nowhere near the Top 20 music genres where people get to make serious money and there’s no doubt they do it for the love of it – passion!
BB: That’s the word I was actually thinking. That’s one thing I picked up in the room today is passion, from all the conductors, everyone involved, but from you as well, this is a big passion of yours. Obviously people know you from football, they know you from radio, but choral music is deep in your soul, isn’t it?
I love choral music
PM: Absolutely. When I studied with the University of Transkei then, now called Walter Sisulu University, I had an opportunity to do music. I got a distinction in music and part of what I love is developing choirs, training voices. I do that a lot with church choirs.
I’m not involved with professional choirs, but my passion is knowing that with church choirs, there’s raw, raw material, people you get to train from never having sung before in a choir, you’re introducing them for the first time into a choir environment and I love that.
I also was part of this festival in the sense that I used to sing for Zwelitsha Adult Choir in the early 90’s when I worked for Radio Ciskei in Bisho, King Williams Town. I was a member of the Zwelitsha Choir and it was a great thing to make it with the regional eliminations and be there in the finals because you know there are the greatest of the greatest from all provinces.
The fact that you were measured with the other champions, coming from other regions and provinces, it made us feel great, made us feel good. I have that history with it and then in the late 90’s I was introduced then to becoming one of the MCs in the festival and since then, I’ve never looked back, I’ve always enjoyed it.
BB: And there’s enormous amount of talent in this country. You talk about that raw sort of church choir, but we’ve just got so much talent in South Africa, don’t we?
So much talent in South Africa
PM: Absolutely! I think South Africa is rich with music and because choirs and specifically church choirs are the foundation of most genres, a lot of people take a detour and they deviate to Pop and Afro-Soul and Jazz and Commercial Gospel and all of that, but the foundation is just choirs.
That’s where they were trained to have an ear, to know that you stick to your part when you sing and get complemented n a harmony point of view, by other people singing in other parts, that’s where they get to be trained to know who holds the melody in the song and whether you’re harmonising or you’re responsible for the melody.
All of that comes from the foundations, so what these guys are doing, some choirs have literally produced professional singers, who are on their own today. Some went from choirs to groups like Joyous Celebration and from there to a solo career, but the foundation has always been choral music.
BB: Tickets are on sale now for this, through Computicket. If somebody is considering coming to Mangaung for the finals, why should they come?
PM: I think if you want to detox and just get your mind away from the day-to-day hustle bustle of your city and environment, work, and then a whole lot of other things and pressures in your area. Whether they be social, political or socioeconomic pressures, if you want to just go away, choral music has a way. Particularly when fused with classical music, got a way to ease off, let your blood run freely in the system and that’s why they use classical music.
Even when milking cows, because there’s a psychological approach to the blood running when listening to choral music, to classical music. If you want to ease down and get away from it all, the normal happenings of South Africa, then take that weekend and book it from the 11th right until the 14th of December and be in Mangaung and just listen to choirs. Switch your cellphone off, and just listen to choirs. When you go back home, you’ll feel so refreshed.
BB: We’ll leave it at that. Putco Mafani, thank you so much for joining us on Old Mutual Live, much appreciated, we’ll see you at those finals.
PM: Thank you.