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Cara Stacey: Conquering the World Silently

Gown meets town in diverse forms
August 29, 2022
9:35 pm
Pic by Lesedi Rudolph.

Given Cara Stacey’s rich inner musical life, it is unsurprising that she dreams and wakes with the ever-present sounds of her textured and layered scores, until she finds the opportunity to fine-tune them. Sometimes the music needs to be in my head marinating, even just repeating itself and then a solution will emerge. I’m working on a cello piece right now.  A couple of the melodies are living in my head at the moment and will do until I resolve and finalise it.”


Stacey is a composer, a teacher and musicologist. She is a pianist and plays southern African musical bows, including the umrhubhe, uhadi and the makhoyane.


As the Standard Bank Young Artist for music 2021, Stacey is grateful for the recognition. “I didn’t really think I would be eligible because my music is not streamlined, commercial or that accessible.”   She says the award has meant a lot of work opportunities, which have included several concerts, and some educational programs that she had to conceptualise and film.


August is Women’s Month in South Africa and Stacey acknowledges some of the complexities around this.  “In some ways it’s meaningful and totally meaningless at the same time. It would be better if we didn’t have to have it at all.” She recognises the merit of events such as Gender Awareness Week at North-West University, where she is the Senior Lecturer in African Music, that bring some of the challenges into focus. Equally, she points out the advantage of women artists getting more exposure during Women’s Month.


Suspended Conciousness Artist Mzwandile Buthelezi


With regards to what music can do for the individual, Stacey feels that music can help. “The academic in me has read many amazing articles about topics like music as violence, because music gets used in all kinds of devious ways as well. It’s interesting that music is powerful in that way, but I think emotionally, listening to music can be a salve and that’s what makes it so meaningful to so many people.” Stacey goes on to mention how her work with bow music in Eswatini, has led her to recognize how many of the songs originate from women singing to comfort themselves.


Some people, who have been instrumental in Stacey’s journey so far, include the percussionist Dizu Plaatjies, who was her teacher on African instruments. Given the diversity of Stacey’s work, she viewed Neo Muyanga whose work traverses new opera, jazz improvisation, Zulu and Sesotho idiomatic songs, as a role model. Stacey also acknowledges her deep connection with the violinist Galina Juritz, whose work includes writing opera, song writing and film work, as a significant lateral mentor.


One of Stacey’s mentionable projects is called The Texture of Silence, which is an experimental interdisciplinary trio between Stacey, renowned guitarist and composer Keenan Ahrends, and visual artist Mzwandile Buthelezi. Together they explore the interface between improvised music and visual art and it pushes them all to communicate and interact in innovative ways.


When not working on her new album and her book, which is an academic work on music in Eswatini, there is much to keep Stacey sharing her ever-growing expertise. This includes a trip to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, USA, in September, where she will take part in a panel. This incorporates an exhibition that contains a short film that Ilze Wolff made about Bessie Head, called Summer Flowers.  Stacey wrote the music and they will be releasing a limited vinyl version of the soundtrack. In November and December, she will be teaching at the Royal College of Music in Sweden.


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