Review: ‘Making Grace Amazing’ — songs of resistance

… the semiotics of the slave ship continue: from the forced movements of the enslaved to the forced movements of the migrant and the refugee, to the regulation of Black people in North American streets and neighbourhoods, to those ongoing crossings of and drownings in the Mediterranean Sea, to the brutal colonial reimaginings of the slave ship and the ark; to the reappearances of the slave ship in everyday life in the form of the prison, the camp and the school.

Christina Sharpe

The image of the ship conjures up entire political, economic and spiritual histories — conquest, empire, struggle, song, kneeling, kneeling in protest, kneeling in prayer, the knee that forces one to shout, “I can’t breathe.”  From the first slave ship that transported enslaved mothers, children and fathers across the Atlantic to the raft that fails to protect the migrant crossing the sea, water is an undercurrent to all struggles. These struggles are connected and everything is everything.

Within the narrative of colonialism, there exist many lives that are rendered invisible and, furthermore, lives that are unheard — or rather, lives whose reverberations and echoes are felt only by those paying attention. Writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts speaks of rumours of a universal hum, an imperceptible vibration producing a sound 10 000 times lower than can be registered by the human ear. Perhaps this barely noted hum is the echo of enslaved peoples; their cries of sorrow and of joy through song.

Reminiscent of the Negro spirituals of the South, the song Amazing Grace has long been a beloved companion, offering encouragement in times of grief and disappointment — a bona fide anthem for the scarred, the broken, the unjustly treated and the hopeful. 

But of course, its past is fraught. It is marred, sullied and implicated in the ugly history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The hymn dates back to 1779, when it was written by poet and clergyman John Newton; 1779 ― the same year Spain declared war on Great Britain (the longest siege endured by British Armed Forces) in support of the American Revolutionary War, which sought to overthrow British rule across North America. 

Tough to believe that a song of comfort and consolation was itself conceived by a slaver in the slave trade. But then again, if ever there was a song for  absolution and salvation it would be this one: “I once was lost, but now am found/ Was blind, but now I see.”

Making Grace Amazing, which takes the form of a call-and-response between composer Neo Muyanga, soprano Tina Mene and multidisciplinary troupe Legítima Defesa, functions as an unflinching inquiry into America’s most beloved hymn. It studies the evolution and persistence of this 240-year-old hymn as not only a mark of time but also as a contestation of history and temporality. Through moving images, fragments of writings and a sound archive, Muyanga reconsiders its dark and obscured past, detailing these histories, while reimagining the hymn through a subversive, layered and non-linear lens.

You can watch the performance online; tickets cost R35.

This article was first published on The Critter.

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Nkgopoleng Moloi
Nkgopoleng Moloi is a writer and photographer. She is studying for an MA in contemporary curatorial practices at the University of the Witwatersrand, with a focus on exploring womxn’s mobility and freedom of movement

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

Democracy under serious and sustained attack from within the US

Far-right Republicans and the conservative supreme court are working on a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime

Grilling for UK leader Boris Johnson after top ministers quit

The prime minister has faced lawmakers' questions after two of the most senior figures in his government resigned. The finance and health ministers said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal

Declare an ‘energy emergency’, says National Planning Commission

The commission said the goals of the National Development Plan, which it is charged with advancing, ‘cannot be achieved without energy security’

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…