Military Brass Encounter in eSwatini

King Mswati lll of Swaziland changed his country’s name to eSwatini in 2018. The new name, which means “land of the Swazis” was proclaimed by the King at the 50th anniversary Ceremonial Celebration of the country’s independence from Britain and coincidentally, his 50th birthday.

An old friend of mine recently recounted his being seconded, 34 years ago, to the Swazi Defence Force and the part he played in the Coronation of King Mswati lll after his father King Sobhuza had passed away. Although King Mswati was crowned in a secret tribal ceremony, the public jubilation unleashed itself at a huge Coronation Ceremonial Parade in the National football stadium. This event, together with pre-ceremony Guards of Honour at the country’s airport and post parade Garden Parties and the like, were the goals for my friend’s 3 month assignment in 1986.

Swazi Band Rehearsal

Brass Band Training Challenge in former Swaziland

The Band’s HQ was in a rural tented location. My friend relates:-

“Equipped with ancient dilapidated instruments, training (al fresco) commenced at 08.30 every day with lip flexibilities, done by sections. This method was a mystery to the band at first but not without the novelty factor; improvements emerged through awareness of personal intonation, then tuning, development in stamina, range, and even the progress of section leaders (who were rotated) that revealed closet managers of great potential.

Patriarchal hierarchies, not uncommon in Africa, crept into part distribution i.e. the higher the standing in the community the more tune you got to play (even if you were a bass player). Although some theory of music was taught, much of the training, through time restraints, had to be by rote. The vast majority of the band couldn’t read music fluently – but thankfully had the knack of playing by ear, then memorising.”

He told me that for part learning he first demonstrated, for them to copy, then played along with them; on every instrument!

Swazi Band Performance

Ceremonial Repertoire

The most daunting task was ensuring that around 30 National Anthems could be played for visiting heads of state. Some of the anthems had already been set down in 1981 for the Silver Jubilee of the late King, but as the library, a wicker hamper, was next to the maize store, all sorts of hungry rural rodents had destroyed it. In the early weeks of my friend’s secondment, the evenings were taken up with arranging the replacement anthems and other music selected for the parade. Strange to relate but utilising some of the band’s current repertoire was a non starter as much of it was made up of hymns, except for the following:-

Swazi (Zulu) Warrior went with a great swing even though they all played the melody. God Bless the Prince of Wales, John Brown’s Body and Scipio, fairly internationally known. Not so, although Swazi firm favourites, Lela Lifulela, Sivulele Bhuza and Mahawu. Ironically Addison’s A Bridge too Far  was successfully mastered as one of the Inspection tunes.

Arrival of the Band Instruments/Uniforms in former Swaziland

2 weeks before the Coronation, new Boosey & Hawkes instruments arrived. Gold lacquered, they were played together for the first time in a rendition of the Swazi national Anthem, composed by a great aficionado of their culture, the late Dr David Rycrot, who, besides composing suites for brass band based on African folk songs had written the official English Swazi dictionary.  Incidentally Dr Rycroft was a founder member of the Guild of Gentlemen Trumpeters.

Similarly, new uniforms appeared, apparently chosen from a Band uniform catalogue. Improvements in turn out and playing were immediate and the band’s pride in their efforts and advancements was tangible.

Finale

Suffice to say that the Coronation parade, which took the form of a Trooping the Colour and drive/fly past, went really well as did all the other side engagements carried out. The Royal Garden Party at the main palace was a truly grand affair involving three bands, the Defence Force, Police Force and Prison Service that, I am led to believe, was formerly the best band in the land; the anecdote as to why, goes like this. A former UK trained DOM of the Swazi Police Band, through no fault of his own, found himself serving time. During his sentence he was persuaded to rehearse the Prison Service Band that improved dramatically under his guidance.

Swaziland Coronation Parade – 26th April 1986

Tribute to a Visionary

November 2020 was to have been the 50th anniversary of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman. His death, on 10th January 2020, marks the end of the remarkable reign of one of the greatest patrons of Western music in the region, by establishing some of the finest performance venues for Oman’s burgeoning Military Wind and Brass Bands, Pipes and Drums and all manner of mounted musicians. Visiting Orchestras, Opera and Ballet Companies, similarly benefitting from the excellent facilities. 

The development of Western Military music in Oman, under Sultan Qaboos’s Reign through the latter part of the 20th Century, has been the exemplar for other evolving countries in the Middle East.

Cyril Foster

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