Penn-in-Grahamstown is a Penn Summer Abroad program where students attend the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This blog that showcases student photos, videos and writing about the festival from Summer 2011.
Content is provided by the Arts & Sciences Learning Commons, an online learning platform that allows students to connect and collaborate.
For more information on Penn Summer Abroad or the Penn-in-Grahamstown program, contact

Aug 1

Introduction from Professor Carol Muller

Penn in Grahamstown, Music 56, is the first summer study abroad class at the University of Pennsylvania that takes students to Africa. We are in South Africa at the National Arts Festival, a festival of music, dance, theater, film, and a thinkfest, all in one town, over an 11 day period. The class begins online through the LPS Commons—this year we had people logging in from Kenya, Bulgaria, South Africa, and the United States. Then we all met together in Grahamstown, South Africa on Wednesday June 29, and began to attend performances at the festival on June 30. Eleven Days of Amazing is how the Festival is billed, and we have truly been amazed so far. When everyone leaves on Sunday July 11, we will have two more days in a regular classroom to process what we have learned, witnessed, and participated in over a four week period. With a final flourish of writing, the class ends, and we all board airplanes to return home.  

For more information on the program, contact

Jul 19

African Rhythms Performance

Video by Vincent

Jul 18

Inua (by Patricia)

Inua, created and performed by Jori Snell, took place in The Hangar. Her intention was to portray a woman in a mythical time and space on a quest to find her origins. In her quest, she sometimes sinks to madness. Jori’s Snell’s thematic focus was the shape shifting journey of life and the change in things. The dance is telling the story about how the narratives of life, both present and ancestral, flow and evolve, one into another. This dance relates to many current events, both figuratively and subjectively. In regards, to South Africa it relates to the forces of life that are making the country evolve. Each story in the dance was a form of metamorphosis or evolution. For example, in the first story, Snell was a mermaid. At first I wondered why she chooses the mermaid story.

However, it may be because she believes as some evolutionists do that her origins began in the sea. I was impressed by the variety of languages that Snell used. Using different languages was another piece of the dance that contributed to the dance as a form of evolution and was reflective of South African culture.

Snell appropriately designed the costume, lighting, design, and set.   The scenic design and the pre-recorded music evoked a dreamy feeling.  The visual effects and objects were beautiful, original, sometimes humorous and witty. For example, the creature with only the two red beady eyes in pitch blackness was clever. Another one of Snell’s intentions was to encourage viewers to use their imagination. She was very successful in that endeavor.  This was one of my favorite and most visually memorable performances at the festival.

Introducing Penn-in-Grahamstown Students: Patricia

Video by Mirela

Introducing Penn-in-Grahamstown Students: Natasha & Chris

Video by Mirela

Introducing Penn-in-Grahamstown Students: Derin

Video by Mirela

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (by Patricia)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo took place in the Guy Butler Theatre in the Monument. The ensemble of nine men presented their version of indigenous South African music.

The combination of isicathamiya and traditional Zulu dance was a new and rewarding experience for me. The thing that impressed me most was that I have never seen a ‘boy band’ that large perform, much less with such originality and cohesiveness. The selection that intrigued me the most was the comical rendition of The Farmer in the Dell. It was intriguing to me because it was so unexpected and because I really enjoyed the South African twist and the different expressions of animal sounds.

The performer’s presentation of their selected compositions was beautiful and successfully communicated their powerful message of honoring culture.

I believe the aspect of live performance did affect my perspective of the music. Having the ability to listen to the music while watching the dance(s) and interactions of the ensemble amongst each other and with the audience made the music a more enjoyable experience for me. If not for the live performance, I may have become bored with the music as some of the pieces seemed to sound very similar. Perhaps, the similarity f pieces have less to do with the music and more to do with the fact that some of the sounds were unfamiliar to me.

Despite the unfamiliarity or maybe because of it, I enjoyed the performance and was not surprised when they received an encore.

Photos and captions by Michael, Penn-in-Grahamstown student

Jul 13

You call it tradition (umkhuba) (by Derin)

I sit between the crossroads,
the whispers of my ancestors, Amatongo, blowing in the wind
the cries of modernity getting louder
engulfing the air I breath
Umjaho! Umjaho! Umjaho!
I run to the mountains seeking the familiarity of my grandmother’s touch
the beauty in her eyes, the colors of the beads that decorate her arms and head, the patterns of her hair,
I yearn for the melody in her voice
I run for I am Zulu
my heart, my soul, rooted in the soil of KwaZulu-Natal
I run for my heart beats to the rhythm of a Xhosa drum
seeking a vaccine for modernity, I find my sanctuary in the Eastern cape
I am 12, though age matters not
infused with the song of womanhood, ngicula
born a woman, for girls exist not but for a minute
A minute to laugh and play,
A minute long enough to be missed, as the inevitable approaches
I am 12, though age matters not
I clean each day, waking up at the crack of dawn to wash
to cook, and take care of my siblings, ngenza
my back made of steel as I carry my brother on my back
A bucket of water on my head,
As I walk through the market,
armed with the speech of a 40 year old, I bargain for my meal for the day
I am 12, though age matters not
I dance with the spirits of my ancestors
arms flapping in the winds
my claps like a thousand thunders
my feet causing the earth to shake
I move like a tsunami
swaying my hips left to right
my talent I was born with, infused with from birth
by my ancestors who look and smile as I
move as they moved, and sing as they sung
my squeals pleasing to their ears
my voice reaching the ends of the earth
I remain cemented to ground my ancestors toiled,
singing the songs my grandmother sung
I walk as they walk, eat what they ate
I am Zulu
I am Xhosa
umbingelelo, welcome to my homeland

Voices (by Derin)

Speak my child, speak
A rumble in my throat
as the volcano in me fights to erupt
emotions crashing against each other
seeking freedom from the white hands
plastered against my lips
the voice within unheard

Speak my child, speak
Apartheid no more,
yet my heart sings the blues
inequality, crime, the life sucking hands of politics
that squeeze the light from my life and
compose the music to my freedom blues

Speak my child, speak
my fingers twist and turn transforming into words
my eyes, she can read like the back of her hand
my body a language she is fluent in, a love affair unheard of
sounds I can never make, yet she hears me clearly

Speak my child, speak
everyday I watch and listen to the sounds from my blue screen
that seeks to change my voice, drawing me slowly to the west
my language going through a metamorphosis
Durban hip hop, they call it

Speak my child, speak
we created our own language
a catharsis for the emotions within
borrowed from others yet molded by our sadness,
our happiness that cause us to blow and bang away through the night,
we found a voice in the bosoms of jazz

Speak my child, speak
I have voice though some refuse to listen
I have a voice that cries out against the injustice in this country
I have a voice which narrates my deepest emotions through the melody of my instruments
I have voice uttered in Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa just to name a few

Speak my child, speak
my mother always said

Mother, can you hear me?

Page 1 of 4