Peter Langmead

Operas from Zambia

The Legend of Konga Mato

The Chief is increasingly in trouble of not defeating the kongamatoThe Chief fails to defeat the kongamato and faces the wrath of his people.

Young Maestro brings Opera Premiere to life

The Legend of Konga Mato's musical director, Joseph Muyunda, on who inspired him and what it takes to be a good musical director

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – At just 19-years-old Joseph Muyunda can play nearly every instrument in an orchestra, and has landed himself a plum position as music director of Zambia's only opera company. It's a high-pressure job that sees him co-ordinating more than 20 classically trained soloists and choral singers – some more than twice his age – and using all his musical and organisational skills to bring together a spectacular two-hour performance.

The Legend of Konga Mato is only the second Zambian Opera to be staged in the country. More than 50 classically trained Zambian musicians, singers and dancers will perform in the opera at the Lusaka Playhouse on April 9-11. Nineteen-year-old Joseph Muyunda's task as musical director includes ensuring the cast know and interpret the music well. This is a really tough ask for anyone, especially for someone who has only started to learn to play his first instrument five years ago at 14.

Growing up Joseph would have been expected to start playing music earlier than fourteen, “my family is very musical,” Joseph says. “My mother studied music and my father is the musical director in my church.”

Both his parents tried to “force” Joseph to learn an instrument. He was not interested. Then in 2010 Joseph accidentally tuned to a channel showing America musician, John Roderick, playing the piano. Mesmerised by what he heard, Joseph watched Roderick “for hours and hours and got inspired to play music”.

He immediately begun to teach himself the piano and practised for up to four hours a day. In 2012, while studying at Kamulanga Secondary School, he was among ten students selected to attend the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy. That same year, Joseph won the Roos prize and was chosen as Zambia's best pianist.

The villagers rebel against the chiefThe villagers rebel against the headman and want him removed.

Since then Joseph has learned to play more instruments besides the piano. He can play the entire string section but is still working on the instruments in the wind section because they are “really hard for him to blow.';

These skills are why Dr Peter Langmead, the librettist and composer of The Legend of Konga Mato, chose Joseph as musical director only a month after Joseph had joined Opera Z, the group producing the opera.

“Joseph has a key role to play in producing the opera,” explained Dr Langmead. “His musical talents are impressive, and his dedication and hard work are enthusing the soloists and chorus with a real sense of excitement and energy, which are vital to creating a huge work such as an opera. It's a big responsibility.”

Joseph remains humble about his appointment especially after being part of OperaZ for such a short time, “It's a really big appointment I never expected to have,” said Joseph. “You can't even imagine the feeling I had [when he was appointed], and it was like going from grass to grace.”

The main challenge Joseph faces as musical director is people. “It is really hard to put people together administratively. You call people for practice at 11:00 hours and the person ends up turning up at 12:00 hours. We have little time on our hands and have a lot of work to do.”

On advice he has for aspiring musical directors: “Being a musical director takes a lot of practice. You really need to study music and need to be up-to-date with music because you will handle people who know music better than you do. So you need to practise really hard on whatever instrument you are playing. I advise that you start playing the piano as well because that is the best way to practise with a soloist and a choir and because one of the prominent roles of a musical director is to be able to teach and accompany soloist, choirs and even orchestras. So a musical director needs to know which instruments are in an orchestra, which parts they play, you practically have to know almost everything that is happening around the music sector or around the music you are playing.”

The Legend of Konga Mato will be staged at the Lusaka Playhouse at 19hrs on Thursday, April 9, Friday, April 10 and Saturday, April 11. Tickets are K200 and can be reserved by calling 0976 750044 or emailing OperaZ@langmead.com.

Joseph Muyunda, music director Joseph Muyunda, music director with chorus
Joseph Muyunda With the chorus

Best regards,

Peter Langmead

Notes

Langmead & Baker Ltd is the producer company based in Lusaka, Zambia. I have to say, there is just nothing that compares with putting on a performance of an opera, nothing at all. I prefer to use Final Draft for writing scripts, but you can also use Celtx.

The Next Movie

The script is prepared for my next movie and pre-production is in progress. This is the most time-consuming part of filmmaking and production is expected to begin at the end of the year,