Where is Home / Hae ke Kae

Abel Selaocoe

Where is Home / Hae ke Kae

Home may be a building, a place, a haven, a state of mind. The word’s abundant resonances echo throughout Abel Selaocoe’s sensational debut album, Where is Home, a title conspicuously short of a question mark—but not of meaning. Its tracklist includes high-octane improvisations in praise of Africa, of family and friends, and spellbinding performances of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Giovanni Benedetto Platti. It also draws from the deep well of the cellist and singer’s South African culture, embracing everything from the evangelical hymns of the Apostolic or Postola Church to the eternal songs of distant ancestors. Beyond owning exceptional skills as an improviser and classical performer, Selaocoe (pronounced “Se-lau-chay”) is blessed with a degree of fellow-feeling that makes what he has to say about life and music worth hearing. Where is Home reflects the joy and humility of someone who, long before his talents were rewarded at school with the loan of an instrument, practiced cello fingerings on a broom handle at home. Singing in church and music improvised with his bassoonist brother were part of his upbringing, deprived by Western material standards yet rich in spirit, love, and community. “South Africa is the kind of environment where there’s difficulty and despair,” he notes. “But at the same time, there’s real hope in the country. I now live in the UK and can feel the difference of spirit. In South Africa, there’s serious poverty, but the world doesn’t end because of it. There’s a kind of automatic optimism. And that was what made me think that wherever you may be, however you may be, in whatever situation you find yourself, what do you call home? I think it’s a place of empowerment that nurtures but challenges you too. Home is a place of growth.” Where is Home—or “Hae ke Kae” in Sesotho, one of polyglot South Africa’s many languages—marries the kind of spontaneous singing that Selaocoe has known since childhood to the free-flowing style of improvisation he developed as a student at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. “I arrived at music college from a strong African culture,” he recalls. “I was in my late teens, learning how to be in a world of classical music that was so assured of itself. So, I had to find my own identity within that. And I think what I would call an ancestral memory answered many of those questions about who you are, how you hold community, how you hold yourself, what kind of part of the community you are. Being alone, far from home, was the energy injector that pushed me to look for who I am. I discovered then that here is home, and there is home, and everywhere else is home.” Read on as Abel Selaocoe takes us through each track on Where is Home. Ibuyile I’Africa / Africa is Back “The passing down of information from generation to generation is crucial to understanding who we are and where we want to go. The hymn Ibuyile I’Africa was a beautiful channel through which to state the victory over apartheid, but also to express the hope that exists among young people to reimagine their new Africa. That’s a beautiful thing to be responsible for as a young artist. For me, Ibuyile I’Africa is a chance to reinterpret how I see what that new Africa is. Africa is back but in such a different context. The feeling has been passed down that we’re standing on the shoulders of the giants that fought for us, people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani and Steve Biko. They gave us the freedom to express this hope today.” Zawose (for Hukwe Zawose) “This is a homage to the traditional musician Hukwe Zawose and to his country, Tanzania, which gave a place of refuge to South Africans in exile under apartheid. It’s about positive resilience. That’s such a gleaming, incredible quality to have as a human being. And without it, there’s just pure suffering. But with it comes an understanding of the world as it currently is and the hope that it can be changed. The town of Morogoro became a home where people came to be free and be themselves, and to plan how to overthrow a government that was wholly against them. What generosity from the Tanzanian people! Part of this piece is to remind South Africans to share love for fellow Africans uprooted from home.” Cello Sonata No. 7 in D Major (Giovanni Benedetto Platti) “Growing up, I was obsessed with Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, and all these incredible cellists. I see performing classical music as like reading sacred scripture. You look at the score, respect the text, but also interpret it in the best way you can from your personal perspective. And every time you do, it sounds different. That’s its beauty. There’s still an element of improvisation within classical music, especially Baroque music, which gives you the freedom to open up. You learn the rules, but you also learn to be yourself within and outside them. There’s a freedom about Platti’s Sonata, which encouraged me to interpolate my native South African improvisations between its four movements.” Qhawe / Hero “Qhawe is dedicated to a nephew who brought so much life to our family, and a lot of wisdom and understanding of what children have to offer. That’s what this piece is about. I think children have a real part to play in the community with the messages they bring from our ancestors. In our tradition, we see them as the closest of all our family members to our ancestors. In many ways, they speak a spiritual language, which sometimes they don’t even realize themselves. And we must listen carefully as adults to decipher some of the meanings that come from how they see the world. I think it’s very important to give their spirit a chance.” Hlokomela / Take care “In Sesotho, ‘hlokomela’ means ‘take care.’ But it also means ‘take care of others.’ There’s a Sesotho saying about animals coming together to drink from the same well without fear of being attacked or hunted by other animals that are also there to drink. I love those special moments where there’s a truce in humanity and an understanding of what it is to be in need of water, to be in need of human rights, and the importance of taking care of one another.” Lerato / Love “While Ibuyile I’Africa is about finding a new home in our ancestors and our heroism, Lerato is about love. It’s about finding home in the idea of universality that goes beyond race, beyond color, beyond class. It touches all the parts of who we are. This piece is also about finding your own version of a god. It’s not about being ‘religious’; rather, it’s about looking for what’s bigger than you in others or in nature. I think that’s a very human instinct. And I believe the more you’re in awe of what’s around you, the more you grow and the greater your fulfillment.” Seipone / Mirror “We often struggle in life with perspective, with how the world sees us and how we see ourselves. ‘Seipone,’ a mirror, is something you often use when you’re alone, maybe preparing for your day or getting ready to go out, just you and the looking glass. If you were to look in the mirror and tell yourself the messages that you need to hear in order to live a fulfilled life, what would you say? This piece is about allowing yourself to be playful, to improvise and be your true self. And to see your scars and nurture them, and to understand yourself more deeply.” Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: IV. Sarabande Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011: IV. Sarabande (J.S. Bach) “My family live in a small house, just five rooms, so when I play the cello, it’s heard to everybody’s discomfort and comfort! My parents allowed that to permeate the home and me to bring classical music and the cello into their deeply African culture. While I played Bach, my mother would sing countermelodies that sounded like South African hymns. At that age, I thought, ‘No, that’s nonsensical. That’s not right—the rules say so!’ But after many years of reflection, I began to understand that her singing was part of the flavor of Bach for me and that my journey on the cultural map allows it to be like that.” Ka Bohaleng / On the Sharp Side “The title comes from the old Sesotho saying that ‘a woman holds the knife on the sharp side’—by the blade, in other words. I think that’s about the woman being the glue of the family and playing the part of a heroine. Looking at the bond between mother and child is necessary to understanding the strength of a woman. We often see men as those with strength, but there’s a different type of strength which women possess and learning about both types is very important.” Ancestral Affirmations “When I am at home with my family, I record our conversations because I hold them so dear. They say the most poignant things when they don’t know I’m recording. I got their permission to use this one recording as part of Ancestral Affirmations. Every time we leave home, my parents pray to our ancestors and to God to open the path, and to help us understand all the things that come at us in this life. My father gave us that gift on the day we were about to return to the UK, and I used it to end this piece and the album.”

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Dipolelo / Recite
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Cello Sonata No. 7 in D Major, I. 84
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Seipone / Mirror
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Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009
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Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011
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