On 1 November 2017, U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn and Managing Director of the SAMRO Foundation Andréle Roux hosted a signing ceremony at Johannesburg’s iconic Jazz club The Orbit. This ceremony was to commemorate the launch of the partnership under the auspices of the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), a powerful initiative that has a legacy of ‘restoration of ancient and historic buildings, assessment and conservation of rare manuscripts and museum collections, preservation and protection of important archaeological sites, and the documentation of vanishing traditional craft techniques and indigenous languages.’(eca.state.gov)

The SAMRO Foundation is proud to be supported with the grant of just over R1,2 million following the worldwide competition for funds provided by American Ambassadors in more than 100 countries. In the coming two years the grant to complement the work of the SAMRO Music Archive’s I AM project, will focus on transcribing and documenting indigenous southern African music for purposes of research, performance, conservation, preservation and promotion of southern Africa’s rich musical heritage. Transcription will preserve compositions at risk of being lost and/or forgotten, and ensure indigenous musical works are available to future musicians and scholars.

“This project is called the ‘I AM’ project, not only because I AM is the acronym for Indigenous African Music,” Le Roux said, “but makes a strong statement about our African identity and heritage in connection with our famous spirit of Ubuntu: I am … because of who we all are, or I am because of you. Ubuntu is so often quoted and the definitions vary so much that I had to consult my own personal living archive, my Gogo, my wife’s Grandmother, who said, ‘It’s about being human and our humanity, from birth we are moulded, by our parents, by our community to become human beings appreciated by our elders and society.’ ”

In her address to the audience of leaders in the music industry, Lapenn said: “To preserve indigenous music and song is to recognize the significance of how people throughout history have used their imaginations to interpret and express what it means to be human. Those compositions and songs – whether they are individual celebrations or laments or parts of larger cultural rituals – represent the best of the human character. They should be protected and cherished. Projects like this with SAMRO ensure that our grandchildren will be able to play the music of our African ancestors as easily as we can play the symphonies and operas of our European ancestors.

“One day my son, who is now just a young boy, will be a man. He will inevitably recall his time in South Africa and, I like to believe, his curiosity will lead him back to this country’s history and culture. Its inspiring to think that in discovering himself and his history, he may discover someone performing an old South African traditional song, one that would otherwise have been lost were it not for the vision and passion of SAMRO. I am so glad that we are able to play a supporting role in this.”

The event was attended by numerous figureheads in the arts, including delegates from the US Embassy, the Norwegian Embassy, Pro Helvetia’s Joseph Gaylard, Brett Pyper and Andile Khumalo from the University of the Witwatersrand, BASA’s Michele Constance, the African Cultural Heritage Trust’s uBaba Qhuziline Sithole, and leading musicians and composers including Lindiwe Maxolo, Robert Maxym, Joe Niemand, and Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph. The event was made vibrant with a celebration of our African heritage with performances by Kora player Joe Makhanza who was joined by Bokani Dyer (Piano), Spha Mdlalose (Vocals), Romy Brauteseth (Bass), Mandla Mlangeni (Trumpet), and Marlon Witbooi (Drums) for a performance of Dyer’s original composition based on Thabo Mbeki’s iconic ‘I AM an African’ speech.