A conversation with composers Tamar-kali & Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa | New
This week, two BMI affiliates are participating in a special collaboration with Beth Morrison Projects and Harlem Stage. Tamar-kali, an accomplished Brooklyn-born film composer who also writes, performs and sings in her own alternative rock band and as part of an experimental string and vocal ensemble, and Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, a Zimbabwean academic versatile. , composer and singer, perform their own works as part of song cycles, a program designed to highlight a diversity of musical languages practiced by women and non-binary composers. We caught up with these dynamic, hyphenated music makers on the eve of their performances to find out more.
BMI: How was this concert born?
Tamar-kali: We were commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects to compose a song cycle that would begin in a live performance.
Tanyaradzwa: I admire the work of the company, so I thought it would be a great professional collaboration to undertake.
BMI: Tamar-kali, your work ranges from the raw power and emotional catharsis of your rock music, to experimental work with Psychochamber Ensemble, to your symphonic compositions and film scores. As a busy and prolific composer, how do you manage to reconcile these extremes? Do they balance each other out or do you find yourself constrained to one over the other?
Tamar-kali: My work is a continuum that channels the range of my influences. I have to create above all else. I think being a mostly self-taught, independent artist who has developed his practice at home and then in studios and stages is key. My artistic talent is a natural progression born of my personal experiences. Music is music. As a listener and practitioner, I enjoy a range of sounds and expressions and my work reflects this.
BMI: Tanyaradzwa, your music is rooted in the culture and traditions of your Zimbabwean heritage. Tell us about that. What associations does this music evoke for you? What do you hope your listeners take away from the experience?
Tanyaradzwa: ChiVanhu (Indigenous Madzimbabwe aesthetics, knowledge systems and ways of being) is part of my identity. I use our Indigenous ways of making music as a springboard for my creative practice. This music is me, it’s my home, it’s my lineage, it’s my voice.
As for what I hope listeners take away, I hope seeing me walk through my story with radical honesty will encourage them to embark on similar journeys for themselves.
BMI: For this event at Harlem Stage, what can attendees expect from your song cycle performances?
Tamar-kali: I don’t even know what to expect! This work is completely new, and it’s been three years since I performed on a stage, a passionate and sincere performance!
I hope this work inspires and provokes expansive thoughts and emotions and perhaps sparks a journey of new discovery.
Tanyaradzwa: My song cycle is called Marimuka. “Marimuka” means desert or foreign land in the ChiZezuru language of Madzimbabwe.
We believe that Marimuka is an existential place that manifests in everyone’s life. It is a vast sacred and mysterious expanse whose depths conceal both unspeakable terrors and divine miracles. Every human spirit must journey through Marimuka in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of self, but the journey should only be undertaken when the spirit is ready to do so. The journey is arduous, and the lone traveler is stretched far beyond the limits of his comfort, and often, of his life.
This song cycle is dedicated to the millions of Zimbabweans who have left our homeland to work in the global diaspora to care for their families at home while living in economic and spiritual exile in Marimuka. Living in Marimuka is a sacrifice of Love because Marimuka is meant to be a place of transition, not of residence.
BMI: Can you tell us about the lyrics you used in your song cycle? How or why did you choose them and what do they mean to you?
Tamar-kali: While researching texts in the public domain, I was struck by the dark beauty of these poems by Lola Ridge, Gwendolyn Bennet and Jessie Redmon Fauset. I was invigorated and inspired to resurrect their work for those like me who were unfamiliar.
It’s a practice I’ve been engaged in for as long as I can remember; retracing my existence from my ancestors, looking for as many freewheeling women, agitators and pioneers whose silhouettes stood out from the gender roles and expectations of their time.
The African-American tradition of alternative kinship structures defines a space in the understanding of family that is not based on blood, but on spirit. In this regard, I looked for my “other mother”‘; women who gave birth to movements and inspired new generations.
Tanyaradzwa: The text of Marimuka is mine and tells the story of my personal journey to Marimuka – my lifelong rite of passage into womanhood that began when I immigrated to the United States fourteen years ago. Along my journey, I have faced the excitement of a new adventure, loneliness, longing, and the weight of institutional dehumanization (i.e. years spent being called ” foreign resident”). I learned to fight, use my voice, and deploy my gifts to humanize myself on my own terms in the interest of my survival, empowerment, and joy.
BMI: What’s next for you two?
Tamar-kali: A limited-release ten-inch recording of this song cycle, melancholy ghosts and Other mothersa short digital opera project with New York-based Catapult Opera; and a three-act musical theater piece directed by Bill T. Jones that will be part of the Perelman Arts Center’s inaugural season.
Tanyaradzwa: A commission for Carnegie Hall’s Link Up Orchestra program.
BMI: What role has BMI played in each of your musical journeys so far?
Tamar-kali: Thanks to BMI, I realized the benefit of having a team in your corner to support your interests and efforts as a songwriter. It was great getting to know the team from classical to film/TV and pop and rock and engaging with them on my different projects.
Tanyaradzwa: As a member of BMI, it’s good to know that my work and music rights are protected.