Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
WIUM, Matildie Thom. The contribution of Stefans Grové's Raka to the Raka discourse. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.2, pp.231-247. ISSN 2224-7912.
N. P. Van Wyk Louw's epic poem Raka (1941) is one of the most significant works in the Afrikaans literary canon. In the seven decades since its first publication, it has given rise to a varied interpretive discourse, comprising, of course, literary criticism, but also translations, and -importantly for the present context - creative responses (literary or otherwise) to the poem, in which the original functions as an intertext or a subtext. Stefans Grové (b. 1922) composed such a creative response to Raka, subtitled A symphonic poem in the form of a concerto for piano and orchestra (1996), and this article argues that this work makes two unique contributions to the Raka discourse: It complicates the rigid dualisms in the poem that many previous readings have identified in the poem, and it contributes to a postcolonial understanding of the Afrikaner in Africa. Most early interpretations of Van Wyk Louw's Raka centre on the identification of specific dualisms in the piece that are understood to represent its conceptual core. An obvious example of such a dualism is Koki/Raka, also understood as good/evil, where Koki represents the prophetic outsider that tries to defend cultural heritage, and Raka represents the primitive and violent forces that threaten the continued existence of culture. A related dualism (emerging from the Koki/Raka dualism) is culture/nature, which is also understood as good/evil, since "nature" in this reading stands for the absence of or disregard for culture. More recent interpretations, partaking of a postmodern spirit, have sought to understand such dualisms in terms of a relationship with an Other that is different rather than evil, and have criticised a perceived colonialist import in the "message" of the poem, especially in its traditional interpretations. This article illustrates Stefans Grové's contribution to such more recent responses to Van Wyk Louw's poem. Stefans Grové's Music from Africa series has attracted some musicological criticism concerning issues that are especially pressing in his Raka concerto: his "Africanist" series of compositions have been criticised as neo-colonialist and inauthentic, since they present self-composed materials in an African-inspired style as "African" music, thereby displacing "authentic" Africa. In a composition based on a text as central to Afrikaner culture as Raka, the question of authenticity is especially pressing, since the subtext highlights questions about the Afrikaner's place in Africa. Stephanus Muller (2006:26) has argued that Grové's Raka "restores to [Afrikaner culture] (and art music with it) its local space", and this article interrogates Muller's observation musically. Grové uses similar musical materials (pentatonic diatonicism) to represent the African landscape (including bird call transcriptions) and Koki's tribe that lives within it, and the representation of the tribal music bears some affinity to the tonal structures implied by the uhadi. In this way, the music portrays an idealised pre-industrial life that critiques the negative impact that Western colonialism has had on the intimate relationship between Africa and her people. Moreover, the identification of Africa with the tribe through musical materials complicates the dualism nature/culture. Raka's (chromatic) musical materials contrast with those of Koki/the tribe/the African landscape, and yet this dualism (Raka/Koki) is also problematised in the music by means of the instrumentation: although the piano most often represents Raka, it is also involved in the characterisation of the other set of concepts, nature/tribe/Koki. A structuralist interpretation of Van Wyk Louw's Raka as sign might understand the Afrikaans poetry as the signifier and the events of the story as the signified. Because the story is set in an idealised fantasy of pre-industrial Africa and told in the voice of cultivated Afrikanerdom, authentic Africa can be understood to function as a "silent signified" in such a reading. By contrast, Stefans Grové's piano concerto replaces the Afrikaans poetry that has acted as the signifier with a musical narration that silences, so to speak, the voice of the Afrikaner and bestows a voice on the African landscape and its original inhabitants (through the transcribed bird calls and the possible connection with the uhadi), thereby contributing to a postcolonial interpretation of Van Wyk Louw's Raka. In this way, Grové's Raka strives to relocate the Afrikaner in Africa through an aesthetic gesture, offered in conjunction with the expression of the desire for a profound bond with the land and the wealth of its indigenous cultures.
Keywords : Stefans Grové; Music from Africa series; Raka discourse..