Ancestral Connections

It is with great gratitude that I welcome the launch of Ancestral Connections, 2024!

The aim of Ancestral Connections is to awaken the connections of people to their ancestral roots through the power of traditional African music, rhythm, sound, and cultural experience. The individual “awakenings” sessions and extended-series “xingombela” sessions offer individuals who have been disconnected from their forefathers—either forcibly or by culture, distance, and time—a safe and inviting space in which they can rediscover and reground their deepest identities.

Funding provided through the support of the Minnesota State Arts Board 2024 Creative Individuals fellowship makes Ancestral Connections accessible to all community members in the MSP Metro area. Community centers, libraries, and other organizations are invited to inquire about partnering with Nyttu Chongo to deliver this series at a free or reduced cost during the 2024 calendar year. Typically, the experiences are delivered in a series of three 1.5-hour sessions in a quiet space conducive to meditation and introspection.

Nyttu Chongo creates a reflective, meditative space utilizing a number of traditional African instruments native to Sub-Saharan Africa as the centerpiece of the auditory experience of Ancestral Connections: Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, Mbira Dzava Dzimu, Xitende, and the Chopi Timbila—a UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity instrument native to Mozambique. As a musician, culture bearer, and teacher, Chongo invites individuals into the experiences of their own bodies in response to sound and mindful relaxation, and creates space for exploration of self and identity in connection to those who came before.

OUTCOMES: Minnesotans will experience connecting with their ancestors as an integral part of themselves through the power of music.

ABOUT: A series of in-person workshops delivered in the MSP Metro in 2024 targeting engagement of about 250 people in three distinct age groups (youth, adults, and elders).

ARTISTIC BIO

Nyttu Chongo is a Machangana African musician and composer from Maputo, Mozambique, now residing in Fridley. He builds, repairs, and plays a wide range of traditional African instruments. A 2020 MN State Arts Board Initiative grantee and 2024 MN State Arts Board Creative Individuals grantee, his mission in life is to make the voices of his ancestors heard through these instruments so that the world does not lose this essential musical and cultural heritage.

Since moving to MN in 2016, Nyttu Chongo has made a local name for himself on both large stages and in community settings across the Midwest: opening for the production of Familiar at the Guthrie Theater in 2018, leading workshops at the University of Illinois and UMN in 2020, and performing at numerous festivals, libraries, and schools independently and through MPR Class Notes as the duo Heliopsis from 2020 to present. In 2021, Nyttu released his first full-length album, Libandzuwa (“The Power of the Sun”). In early 2022, Nyttu developed and performed an original work for the 2022 Cedar Commissions. Nyttu was also a MacPhail Global Music Initiative Artist in Residence for 2022, a McKnight Musician Fellowship Finalist in 2023, was a five-year member of the MN Music Coalition, and is a current member of the Recording Academy. He will be performing both new and original works on the Ordway stage in Saint Paul on July 26, 2024 for his new show Phulani.

Nyttu’s music transcends the performative and creates space for individuals and groups to connect authentically with their ancestral past and individual identities. He founded Ancestral Connections in 2023 to introduce Minnesotans to the power of music to open one’s awareness of their ancestral roots.

Presenting Phulani by Nyttu Chongo, 7/26/2024

I am very excited to share that tickets are now on sale for my upcoming show, Phulani, at the Ordway in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This performance is both a celebration and a mourning of our connections to each other and our ancestors across space and time. Humanity has great opportunities and great challenges to overcome, from the violence perpetrated against each other to the harm caused to our Earth. This performance is about connecting to each other, the world around us, and those who came before us through the language of music.

This series of original works played by myself on Mbira Dzava Dzimu, Kora, Inanga, and Timbila will be accompanied by Cello, Violin, Viola, and Voice. The power of this performance is driven by its centering on African string instruments: Inanga and Kora. The featured instruments come from three distinct regions of the continent. The Inanga is a harp from Central Africa, with greatest prominence in Rwanda and Burundi. Timbila is a traditional percussive instrument native to my home province of Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Phulani means “Open.” By this, my wish is for open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Openness to others and openness to our inner selves. Composed through a uniquely African style of improvisation, I aim to explore the threads, rhythms, and sounds that bind us to each other. This performance is made possible in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Tickets can be purchased here: https://boxoffice.ordway.org/Online/mapSelect.asp

YourClassical MPR Class Notes for the 2023-2024 Season

Mikaela Marget and I are beginning our third year teaching as a duo called Heliopsis.

This year, we will be changing up the instruments that we use and the style of our teaching, bringing in more storytelling and the African string instruments with greater emphasis. We will continue to play original music for various traditional instruments from Sub-Saharan Africa, cello, and voice. Our music ranges from raucous and dance-like to serene and peaceful. Each tune has an element of improvisation, so no two performances are the same.

Heliopsis is a 2023-2024 MPR Class Notes participating ensemble, and is available to school groups for educational performances.

We invite you to listen and watch a sample lesson of ours here.

Named a McKnight Fellowship for Musician Finalist

I am grateful to have been selected as one of none finalists under consideration for a McKnight Musician Fellowship in 2023. Although I was not selected to receive the financial support, I am honored to have been recognized for my unique musical voice and the contribution I wish to continue to bring to my community. I was most proud to read in the panelist comments the following words:

“Continue to follow the voice of your ancestors and share your musical vision. Thank you for your artistry…Inventive playing…Wonderful to be in your generous presence today. Your joy infuses each move you make with your instruments in hand.”

Selected as a Voting Member of the Recording Academy

It is with excitement that I share I have accepted the nomination to join the Recording Academy as a voting member.

I’m honored to be part of the new @RecordingAcademy member class and join the countless creators and professionals who serve, celebrate, and advocate for our music community year-round. #IAmTheAcademy

You can read more about the Recording Academy and its membership on their website here: https://members.recordingacademy.com/s/?language=en_US

Billboard Article: https://www.billboard.com/music/awards/recording-academy-new-voting-members-invitations-1235108187/

Please follow me on Instagram at @NyttuXhongo

YourClassical MPR Class Notes for the 2022-2023 Season

Mikaela Marget and I have enjoyed MPR Class Notes so much that we are signing up for a second year teaching as a duo called Heliopsis, creating improvisational works featuring Timbila, Mbira, and Cello.

When choosing a duo name, Mikaela Marget and Nyttu Chongo wanted something that reflected joy and light. They settled on Heliopsis, the scientific name for Sunflower, which captures the forward moving energy of the ensemble.

Heliopsis plays original music for various traditional instruments from Sub-Saharan Africa, cello, and voice. Their music ranges from raucous and dance-like to serene and peaceful. Each tune has an element of improvisation, so no two performances are the same.

Heliopsis is a 2022-2023 MPR Class Notes participating ensemble, participating for the second year in a row.

I invite you to listen and watch a sample lesson of ours here.
Man with yellow shirt holding an mbira

MacPhail Global Music Initiative 2022 Artist in Residence

I am honored to share that I have been named a 2022 MacPhail Global Music Initiative Artist-in-Residence.

As it is stated on the MacPhail website, the GMI Artist-in-Residence Program offers 8-month residencies at MacPhail Center for Music to foster cultural change in our communities through passion and creativity in music. Believing that supporting and investing in diverse voices challenges current ideas of music education pedagogy, this program is a commitment to become a deeply anti-racist organization by giving diverse voices a platform to share their creative stories, challenge ideas, and question the nature of existence.

Selected recipients are provided artistic and educational opportunities to promote a culturally thriving tomorrow.

Logos for Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment and for Minnesota State Arts Board

This activity partially made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

 

Project: Echoes of Africa: An Experience with Iconic and Disappearing African Instruments 

This project creates collaboration with top-tier artists to amplify the sounds of disappearing African instruments through the MacPhail Global Music Initiative residency program. Chongo will develop and create a master class series on African improvisation, culminating in an original work of approximately 30-40 minutes performed with the faculty and students of MacPhail. In addition to this series, an EP of original, improvisational creative works featuring Mbira Dzava Dzimu, Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, Xitende, and Timbila of Mozambique. To support the master class series, twice-monthly “jam sessions” will be open to community members for creative practice and musical experimentation with their own instruments or using traditional African instruments. Participants are encouraged to come as they are with an open mind to let go of their musical inhibitions, learn, and improvise from the examples shared.

About the Artist

Nyttu Chongo is a musician and composer from Maputo, Mozambique now living in Fridley, Minnesota. He builds, repairs, and plays traditional Mozambican and Rwandan instruments such as the Chopi Timbila, Xipendane,Xitende, Xizambe, Mbira Dzava Dzira, Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, Dju Dju, Timbila, Bombo, Ligoma, Hudo, Xocalhos, Djembe, Pwangue, Kora, and Inanga. A 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative grantee, his mission in life is to make the voices of his ancestors heard in these instruments and let their stories speak so that the world does not lose this essential musical and cultural heritage.

Since moving to Minnesota in 2016, Nyttu Chongo has made a local name for himself on both large stages and community settings across the Midwest, opening for the production of Familiar at the Guthrie Theater in 2018, leading workshops at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Spurlock Museum in 2020, and performing at numerous festivals, libraries, and schools. He is currently developing an original work for the 2022 Cedar Commissions (through the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, MN) called Nkovu Wa Xivavu, which means “A Celebration of Pain.” This piece weds the voices of Central, Southern, and West Africa through the inanga, xitende, and kora. These iconic and disappearing African string instruments from three distinct regions of the continent (Rwanda/Burundi, Mozambique, and Senegal) have never been played together in a single work. By featuring these instruments with deep African soul together at the heart of this improvised and spirit-led piece, Nkovu Wa Xivavu sings of an Africa divided with the opportunity to rediscover itself, illustrated through thin individual strings woven together to become a stronger, united continent.

Artist in Residence

The 2022 Cedar Commissions – The Show

Last night’s performance at the the Cedar Cultural Center’s 2022 Cedar Commissions was an incredible time of celebration of many things: Home, our Ancestors, Pain, Loss, and the Connections we have with each other.  It was my joy to present Nkovu Wa Xivavu, “A Celebration of Pain” on the Cedar’s stage. With just three months to create this music, rehearse, and bring it all to light, this was an ambitious project that was supported all along the way by the generosity and talents of many artists, friends, volunteers, and of course the amazing employees of the Cedar Cultural Center.
I would like to thank God for the gift of life and my ancestors for the honor to be able to share our tradition with many different people. Third, I would like to thank all who collaborated with me on this work: Karin Valdizan, Jason Burak, Mikaela Marget, and Svetlana Davis brought energy and passion to this project. I want to thank my wife Erin Olson for her selfless support. A special thanks to the Cedar Cultural Center for this opportunity to express ourselves as artists and individuals.

The songs of the evening came out in a little different order than planned, as sometimes does when the ancestors speak. Kokandindasse came before Xlhokonono last night. Since I was not able to share the meaning behind Xlhokonono during the show, I want to be sure to share all the musical interpretation here. for you.

  1.  Sinyanguena (I’ve Arrived)
  2. Pfulani ti Dleve (Open Your Ears)
  3. Xlhokonono (Oppression)
  4. Kokandindasse (The Press-Wheel Roller)
  5. Ubuntu (Come Together)

You can download the translation to the night’s music here:  Nkovu Wa Xivavu_final

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You can also read an interview I gave about Friday’s performance of Nkovu Wa Xivavu here, which explains the story behind the music and my philosophy about music and life:
If you can make it out tonight, join me in watching the second evening of Commission artists: Vie Boheme, Alicia Thao, and Kat Parent. https://www.thecedar.org/cedar-commissions

The 2022 Cedar Commissions

I am so grateful and honored to be featured this year as one of the Cedar Cultural Center’s 2022 Cedar Commission artists.  This Friday, I will be performing Nkovu Wa Xivavu, which means “A Celebration of Pain” on the Cedar’s stage at around 8:30PM, between two other amazing artists who are also commissioned artists for the evening. This all-original, new work has never been performed before and I am so eager to share this music with the world.
From top to bottom: Kora, Inanga, and Xitende.
My collaborators on this project include:
  1. Mikaela Marget, Cello
  2. Jason Burak, Cello
  3. Svetlana Davis, Viola
  4. Karin Valdizan, Violin

Practicing during the Pandemic was a significant challenge. After I worked for several months composing the work, we gathered in pairs and practiced for a month one-on-one at my home before eventually coming together for our final two weeks of group rehearsals all together.

Rehearsal with Karin Valdizan.

The songs we will be performing include:

  1.  Sinyanguena (I’ve Arrived)
  2. Pfulani ti Dleve (Open Your Ears)
  3. Xlhokonono (Oppression)
  4. Kokandindasse (The Press-Wheel Roller)
  5. Ubuntu (Come Together)
The Cedar Cultural Center has published a news article today featuring an interview I gave about Friday’s performance of Nkovu Wa Xivavu. You can read it in full here:

YourClassical MPR Class Notes for the 2021-2022 Season

On September 16, 2021 the preview of our duo’s edition of Class Notes with MPR made its debut. I have been collaborating with the wonderful Mikaela Marget as a duo called Heliopsis over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating improvisational works featuring Timbila, Mbira, and Cello.

When choosing a duo name, Mikaela Marget and Nyttu Chongo wanted something that reflected joy and light. They settled on Heliopsis, the scientific name for Sunflower, which captures the forward moving energy of the ensemble.

Heliopsis plays original music for various traditional instruments from Sub-Saharan Africa, cello, and voice. Their music ranges from raucous and dance-like to serene and peaceful. Each tune has an element of improvisation, so no two performances are the same.

Heliopsis is a 2021-2022 MPR Class Notes participating ensemble.

I invite you to listen and watch our latest lesson here.