à la recherche de la paix et de la liberté
This trio for solo voice, clarinet and piano is a medley of arrangements of works by other composers, mainly South Africans whose music had captured the popular imagination of 1990s South Africa during the late 1980s and 90s, including Enoch Sontonga, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mackay Davashe and Rethabile Khumalo. Through his vibrant and lavish interpretation of the iconic tunes Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, Mannenberg (sometimes spelled ‘Manenberg’), Lakutshon Ilanga, Ntyilo-Ntyilo and Mayibuye, Reddy’s music speaks poignantly to the hopes and fears, the joy and the heartache, the excitement and yearning, of the tumultuous times before South Africa’s liberation. It was commissioned by the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) in 1993 ‘for a tour to Russia by the Jill Richards Chamber Ensemble’, as it says on the cover of the SAMRO score published in 1994. The commission formed part of the response of parastatal organisations such as SAMRO to the political changes sweeping through South Africa in the lead-up to the country’s first fully democratic election in April 1994.
In his ‘Composer’s Notes for the Performer’, reproduced in the score, Surendran Reddy calls the work ‘a written-out improvisation’ and describes how he ‘played a whole lot of music into C-Lab’ and then ‘laboriously edited the printouts to get the final result’, but there is also a pencil draft written on manuscript paper. The manuscript shows a number of minor differences from the final score, but the SAMRO score is later in date and hence more authoritative, and although it has several errors (one of which Reddy points out in the ‘Composer’s Notes’ while others were hand-written on his copy of the SAMRO score), these are all corrected here, and ACE is extremely grateful to Antony Gray for typesetting the work afresh. The ‘Composer’s Notes’ show Reddy’s concern for notational detail and stylistic interpretation and also show that, despite SAMRO’s designation of à la recherche as an ‘Afro-Jazz Song Cycle for High Voice with clarinet obligato’, it is a trio in which ‘each musician is of equal importance … a contrapuntal interaction of three entities [and not] a set of songs with piano and clarinet accompaniment’, as Reddy puts it. It is a long piece comprising several clearly delineated sections, some of which feature only clarinet and piano, voice and piano, just piano, and so it is feasible to extrapolate one section and perform it as a shorter piece.
The music of à la recherche grew out of Reddy’s previous suite freedom for jazz quartet written in 1990 for Reddy’s band Channel 18 (SR042 ACE341), which was itself at first called ‘hymn to freedom’. This explains the other theme that appears in à la recherche, which is Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom. As for the title: it is of course a play on Marcel Proust’s novel à la recherche du temps perdu, and now, in the 2020s, it does give us a feeling of remembrance for those ‘times past’ of 1993 South Africa. This feeling is exacerbated by the way Reddy frames the work with Sontonga’s hymn, ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’, which is now – but was not then – an integral part of the South African national anthem and of South Africa’s sense of nationhood. Indeed, it is a pre-eminently African anthem, also the national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia.