Rewind Cantata


“An enduring masterpiece of diverse choral musical, cultural and oral traditions” – THE STAR S.A.

“Ambitious…provocative” – NEW YORK TIMES

“The Cantata brought together the cry of our country-our pain and fears, our hopes and especially our triumphs and joys in the way we as South Africans can best express these emotions-in music and song. It was a deeply moving, most powerful and uplifting experience. It is so much more than a concert. It is a wonderful vehicle for telling our history and a contribution to nation building.” – Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus


REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape & Testimony combines vocal soloists, chorus, and string octet with stunning projected images to celebrate the human spirit in South Africa that rose above the horror and evil of the deeds that were committed in the name of Apartheid. Composer Philip Miller has endeavored to express in music the South African spirit as it manifested itself during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings that began in East London, South Africa in 1996. The songs in REwind, which mix operatic and traditional South African styles, are built around actual testimonies and weave recorded audio samples from the hearings into the music. The physical environment, designed by Gerhard Marx, creates a visual context that illuminates the full power of the cantata: through the use of ingeniously animated projections of photographs and text the testimonies literally take form, enveloping the chorus on stage. And as the words and images settle onto the everyday world, the spaces between the victim and transgressor, those who deliver testimony and those who listen, merge.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been described in many ways: a Greek drama; a melodrama; a spectacle; a farce. The deliberations of the TRC took place on a stage in a hall. The backdrop was fifty years of Apartheid. On stage were the good guys and the bad guys, the priests and the peasants, whites and blacks, cadres and cowards, women and children, heroes and informants, Hindus, heathens, Muslims and Methodists, and all told their personal lives to the country. It was narrative and counter-narrative, protagonist and antagonist. For months on end, ordinary South Africans described the devastation of their lives—some used humor, other used imagery. Some could hardly speak, others rambled on as if it was no longer possible to find a logical thread in their lives. Some told their stories with the dignity of the elderly in the rural areas, others with the phrasing of the action packed cities. The atmosphere was soaked with grief. On another stage the perpetrators were telling their side. Some were proud of what they did; others were ashamed. Some were completely destroyed by their inhumane acts; others felt betrayed by their race and political leaders. The atmosphere was soaked with guilt. Piece by piece the collective memory of South Africans was built. We learned that the country belonged to the voices that tell its stories. When people could no longer speak, they sang. When they could no longer sing, they prayed. When they could no longer pray, they started talking again.

REwind is a work with no real parallel: both an extraordinary piece of music and digital art and a historical document with tremendous topical relevance. Above all, it is a commemoration of the dignity of those victims who suffered under the regime.