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( Premieres: November’s new music - Eritrean-British Orchestra Composer Daniel Kidane

Posted by: Biniam Tekle

Date: Thursday, 02 November 2017

Premieres: November’s new music

As part of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Composers Hub scheme, Daniel Kidane was asked to write a piece with some connection with war. Inspired by the fighting spirit of the Zulu, a Bantu ethnic group from southern Africa, this was the result.

Reflecting on his background: Daniel Kidane © Emile Holba

Reflecting on his background: Daniel Kidane

‘I like writing energetic music, and I wasn’t too keen on writing a sombre piece – I didn’t want it to be murky or slow,’ Kidane says. ‘It’s more a battle piece than a reflective one. It’s also to do with my heritage; my father’s from Eritrea, which was a colony of various different countries, and I wanted to encapsulate their struggle. In a way it was a vessel for me to explore my own musical ideas.’

‘I chose to focus on the Boer war, so it’s a battle piece where the music is immediately energetic. The Zulu people went to battle without weapons matching their rivals; they had spears rather than guns. I wanted to almost try to capture that braveness and that spirit.’

Before writing a single note, Kidane undertook research into the Zulu. ‘YouTube has a lot of Zulu tribal dances and songs, so I immersed myself in their soundworld. But I didn’t pick out specific rhythms or anything; I took what I’d learnt and translated it into my own language. I didn’t just want to write a tribal piece. My piece is very spirited and very rhythmic, and there’s a quieter section which gives a nod to the mbira (thumb piano).’

Although it might not be evident from this piece, Kidane says writing fast music used to be a challenge. ‘I enjoy it now; even my slower stuff is quite rhythmically animated. In Zulu, the energy is passed from one group of instruments to the next; it goes on like that throughout the piece.’

It was no mistake that the composer chose as his subject an era where colonialism was rife. ‘I reflect on my own background and stuff that’s close to my heart. I’m not big on rhetoric that alienates people from other cultures, so this is my way of shining a light on bits of history that maybe people don’t want to confront without it being too “in your face”.’

Daniel Kidane Zulu (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Cristian Măcelaru, conductor, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7.30pm; also 11 November, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 7.30pm)

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Voice of #Eritrea December 1, 2018 broadcast