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A Man of the Cloth and Man of Music: Archbishop Desmond Tutu Spontaneously Conducts the Music of Freedom.


This blog entry by Barbara Kaufmann, Lead of the Arts Sector at the Charter for Compassion, is a reply to Marilyn Turkovich's "Recalling History" post about Archbishop Desmond Tutu featured in our 01/09/22 (Last week's) newsletter. You can read it here. 

Marilyn Turkovich, Executive Director for the Charter for Compassion tells the story of Desmond Tutu's musical adventure. As she tells the tale in her voice, you can almost feel Tutu's exuberance and see him dancing down the aisle as he leaves his seat in a concert hall to spontaneously become the orchestra's conductor. It's classic Tutu.

"It was April 15, 2008, and there I sat, row three in the University of Washington field stadium surrounded by people wall-to-wall. On stage, the Seattle Symphony—under the baton of conductor Gerard Schwarz. The Symphony was joined by youth artists who sat next to their mentors. The ensemble was immense; and there to the side of the stage sat Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama, often chuckling, reaching out for one another in gestures of true admiration—each for the other—embracing the moment. Schwarz raised his baton and as music filled the steel beamed stadium, we saw Archbishop Tutu's feet start moving and then he was up, moving across the stage and taking the baton from Schwarz and momentarily becoming the conductor of the Seattle Symphony.

"The following year, Archbishop Tutu met up with the Dalai Lama again, along with compassion author Karen Armstrong, whose writings inspired the creation of a Charter for Compassion organization—beyond her books and into virtual and actual spaces. On the occasion, part of a Peace Summit in Vancouver, Canada, the Charter signing took place. The Charter itself would be launched two months later at the United Nations.

"British newspaper The Guardian reported that Desmond Tutu urged 'We are calling on the world to sign the Charter for Compassion.' He continued, 'One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community, where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace. Religion, which should be making a major contribution to this endeavor, is often seen as part of the problem; all too often the voices of extremism seem to drown out those that speak of kindness, forbearance and mutual respect.'

"The Charter for Compassion recognizes that the world lost an enthusiastic spirit with the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu on December 26, 2021. He was a David who took on the Goliath of Apartheid, led the peaceful reconciliation under Black majority rule in South Africa and bore on his shoulders, the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, often weeping as stories were shared by victims. He was a fierce pragmatist, a gentle man of principle and a tireless champion for kindness.

"We, at the Charter, will miss him as an advocate for compassion in the world. We mourn with the people of South Africa, and especially with those of Compassionate Cape Town who are recommitting to the Charter for Compassion, as they will be relaunching their compassionate community effort with an affirming and signing of the Charter for Compassion on February fifth."

It turns out this vignette about Tutu and the orchestra is not the only encounter Archbishop Tutu had with music. He viewed music as a form of love, as universal. "Music helped us in our struggle. When we were fighting apartheid, we had a song that we sang to hold up our hope. We had a song we sang when we were in pain. We had songs for crying, and for when we were laughing. Music is in our veins."

Protest songs were born in South Africa as a response to the Apartheid Movement. Vuyisile Mini is considered the father of protest songs against Apartheid and its architects. The first protest song, composed by Mini, in English translates to 'Watch Out Verwoerd,' who was the dictator and architect of Apartheid; "here comes the black man; your days are over." Mini, who was sentenced to death, would sing this song as he walked to the gallows.

Said of Mini during his imprisonment:"And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come... Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section" (Reddy, E.S. 1974).

Mini's contribution to musical resistance would be just the beginning of "the music of struggle" songs for Apartheid in South Africa. Tutu believed that music belongs to all of us and was a proponent of free music, free songs, free singing. In later years, the protest songs would include the beleaguered and imprisoned Nelson Mandela. It was music, more than the politics that shed light on the injustices of institutional and individual racism and Apartheid in Africa.

Archbishop Tutu was a proponent of free music and he worked with SOS Records to promote free music and new artists: "I am participating because we all belong to the human family and each human being has been touched by music. Until now, there are people who may not have been able to access music because of the barrier of finance. Steve's project (SOS) is now going to break down that barrier." Tutu also said that SOS Records is a way for up-and-coming artists to be discovered and "get their fair reward," adding that "the democratization of music is very close to my heart."

It's no wonder that Tutu could not keep his feet still at a concert and his love and embrace of music as a universal form of prayer and communion shines through this story of Archbishop Tutu's ebullient and almost involuntary joyousness in taking the baton in his own hands so as to personally punctuate and universally consummate the sanctuary to the human soul we know as—music.

Tutu was so beloved that the famous Jazz Artist Trumpeter Miles Davis dedicated an album to him in 1986 by Warner Brothers Records. Davis' album "Tutu" received the 1986 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance Soloist Grammy Award for his performance on the album.

The album was controversial not just for its contents but for the way it was arranged. Old Jazz purists hated it for its synthesized sounds and new, young Jazz enthusiasts loved it for its new sound. The album cover featured a picture of Miles Davis' hand with the middle finger depressed as a direct message to those who would oppose and oppress Tutu.

Marcus Miller, record producer who played on the Tutu Revisited World Tour said of the album: "I'm finding that although the music mirrored the times in which it was created, there is so much in the music that still seems relevant today."

Sandoval, Eric. May 6, 2008. C/Net: Archbishop Desmond Tutu a fan of free music
Van Buskirk, Elliot. May 6, 2008. Wired. Archbishop Helps Launch Free Music Label
Vershbow, Michaela. Inquiries Journal. 2010.
The Sounds of Resistance: The Role of Music in South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Movement

Barbara Kaufmann, "One Wordsmith" and CFC Coordinator for The Arts Sector, Senior Writer and contributor to the Charter for Compassion discovered a long time ago, the power in words, images and "story" to change the world. Told with art, music, words, photos, images, film, "story" can grab the human heart, squeeze it, burst it open and send a corona of inspired-creative-human-brilliance shimmering through mass consciousness, the world and the Universe itself. A single image can reverberate round the globe and startle humanity awake. Founder of "Words and Violence" Program about bullying in all its forms on this planet, and writer for Voices Education Project, Charter for Compassion, a Huffington Post contributor, poet, artist, scriptwriter and filmmaker—Barbara "writes to simply change the world." Her ministry and life's work is dedicated to "establishing a more humane narrative on this planet."  

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