Neo Muyanga is a composer born in Soweto, into a long line of traditional composers and musicians. A son of the Muyanga clan (Chopi musicians and inventors of the musical instrument, the Timbila, Mozambique) and the Shembe clan (distant relation to Isaiah Shembe, prophet and founder of the Shembe church/liturgy, Zululand), it’s no surprise music has become his compulsion.
Neo studied the Italian madrigal tradition with choral maestro, Piero Poclen, in Trieste, Italy, is one half of the acoustic guitar duo, BLK Sonshine, has performed before the Queen and royal family of Orange in Amsterdam and has recorded with Rza and Tekitha of Wu-Tang Clan. Just to name a few career highlights.
Neo writes music plays and composes for chorus, chamber and large ensemble, tours widely as a solo performer and as part of BLK Sonshine and curates the Pan African Space Station. His latest mythical opera, Flower of Shembe, will debut at the National Art Gallery in May.
We found out what it’s like to have his very busy and very creative day job.
Between 10and5: Please let us know your official (or unofficial) job title:
Neo Muyanga: I am a composer.
10and5: What and where did you study?
Neo: I studied Madrigal Performance, Philosophy and Physics at UWC in Italy; further political science at RAU in Joburg.
10and5: What characteristics and skills does it take to do what you do?
Neo: The key is understanding the principles of harmonic theory and practice; a working knowledge of the workings and technique of musical instruments; a keen sense of dramatic timing when working with text.
10and5: What do you love about music?
Neo: I don’t love music anymore. It is simply a compulsion now, and my continued existence is contingent on working musically daily.
10and5: What is your creative process when composing a piece of music?
Neo: I start going over my scales (boring but true) and wait for myself to make a mistake. It is usually the mistake, playing the wrong note or missing the right beat, that leads me to discovering a new window of compositional opportunity.
10and5: What is the place furthest from home that your job has taken you?
Neo: I have worked all over. Furthest east is Cochin, India; furthest north is Stokholm, Sweden; and furthest west Los Angeles, USA.
10and5: Your proudest work-related moment?
Neo: The fact that I have worked at this now for 18 years and I am still learning. I hope that never stops.
10and5: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Neo: A theoretical physicist.
10and5: Do you have any advice to those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Neo: My advice is first learn to listen for structure in music. To understand how music works and why is the key to becoming a composer.
10and5: Something your line of work has taught you that you didn’t already know?
Neo: The trick is learning how to access all that you know and that knowledge at will.
10and5: What is your most favourite piece of music or song of all time?
Neo: I don’t have a favourite of all time. That would mean I have stopped listening and being curious about music generally.
10and5: Your dream job?
Neo: I’m doing it!
If you or anyone you know has an out of the ordinary, creative day job, then please let us know! email@example.com