Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
WEYER, Waldo. The exotic element in the music of Stefans Grové: a manifestation of "cultural translation". Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.2, pp. 231-247. ISSN 2224-7912.
This article pays homage to Stefans Grové, "composer of Africa", who turned ninety last year. Grové is one of a trio of South African composers who are regarded as the "founding fathers of South African art music", Arnold van Wyk and Hubert du Plessis being the other two. Grové would, however, eventually distinguish himself from his two colleagues with his Music of Africa series in which he is able to fuse musical features from both Western and African traditions. This hybrid style started to develop in 1984 at the height of apartheid and it was a conscious decision on his part to follow this new direction as composer: a bold move at the age of 62. Grové still composes to this day. His work is considered a rapprochement between Western music and his physical African space and this unique contribution in style has gained him international recognition (Muller 2006a:2-3). Today Stefans Grové is featured in seminal music dictionaries such as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as well as in music encyclopaedias in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Sweden, Britain and Slovenia (Grové 1990:28). This article will explore the exotic element as a differentiating agent in music and how it is manifested as a cultural translation. The interdisciplinary study between cultural theory and music has increasingly developed into a topic of current interest, especially where the use of exotic elements invites discourse within the global andpostcolonial contexts (Mason 1991:167). Betzwieser (1995:228) traces the utilisation of exotic elements as far back as 900AD between Arabic cultures and the south of Spain, whereas this practice in musical terms began much later at the end of the 18th century. The transaction between cultures for aesthetic purposes, however, had already occurred during the Italian Renaissance and can be viewed as a procedure of cultural exchange where the main aim was to enhance and/or develop new representational qualities in sculpture and the art of painting (Campbell & Milner 2004:12-3). Grové is involved in a similar transaction with African cultures - with the added nuance of engaging with the exotic element of an Other, however. He develops his new and differentiating style in which the exotic merges seamlessly with the Western elements of his music. A study of one of the piano études from Grové's Songs and dances from Africa will illustrate how this assimilation between Self and Other does not promote, but rather resist a Western hegemony. It is argued that the composer in quintessence has reversed a statement he made almost sixty years ago; that a fusion between African influences and a Western style can produce nothing of real substance. A narrative by the composer illustrates how the exotic is perceived and then interpreted to act as an inspiration for the creation of a new work of art. A subsequent narrative will describe the understanding of this assimilation as the beginning of a cultural translation. To understand the concept of cultural translation entails that a certain perception is presupposed: the existence of specific differences between cultures and the way in which these differences are interpreted. In this sense Campbell and Milner (2004:1) maintain that interpretation in itself is a form of translation and that meaning changes (my emphasis) in such a transaction of cultural translation. They explain that during the Renaissance in Italy styles and fashions were imitated and distributed to other centres, but this always coincided with a strong sense that differences remained important. One could argue that these specific differences carry the strong impact of the exotic that asserts itself in a subsequent interpretation and therefore translation. The exotic element both initiates and mediates a translation between cultures. The composer, as a perceiver, relies on the ambiguity of an interpretation of the exotic. This interpretation is the enriching and inspiring dynamic that lies within a cultural translation and from which a new and original work of art develops.
Keywords : Cultural translation; exotic; mbira; thumb piano; South African composers; South African music; cultural exchange; mutual translation; cultural theory; assimilation..