Tears Become Rain

VIDEO David Brits, Andre Duma, Raiven Hansmann

Tears Become Rain is a newly released film and immersive online exhibition which illustrates the power of music in bringing together the community of Graaff-Reinet to sing for rain.

In February 2020, Tears Become Rain was announced as one of the grant recipients of the Social Impact Arts Prize. Drawing on the rich choral tradition of the Graaff-Reinet region, Cape Town based sculptor David Brits and his team’s winning project envisioned 2 500 people gathering for a mass-choir performance in the town square of Graaff-Reinet to sing for rain during the worst drought in a thousand years.

Tears Become Rain
Tears Become Rain’s winning project proposal at the Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch.

Less than a month after being announced as recipients of the Social Impact Arts Prize, the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was declared. David and his team were forced to pivot. New constraints for creativity provided an opportunity to re-envision the project and tell the story through the medium of film.

This film, titled Tears Become Rain, was developed through a series of creative workshops with people from the coral-rich community of Graaff-Reinet. The film harnesses the uncanny ability of song to bridge the lines which divide us. The town’s choral tradition is one that transcends racial, political and economic boundaries in a dorp still haunted by the template of apartheid spatial planning.

The film’s narrative follows the journey of a young San boy, told by |xam rainmaker and master storyteller //Kabbo, in a time of great drought. Crying, his tears of grief turn into rain and restore abundance to the world.

Tears Become Rain is a story in the Bleek-Lloyd Archive of San oral history and was recorded by linguists Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm and Dorothea Bleek between 1871 and 1873. The visual concepts, epic poem and the lyrical and musical compositions drew significantly from the archive to evolve into this moving film.

Award-winning Afrikaans poet Ronelda S. Kamfer was commissioned to interpret //Kabbo’s original story from the Bleek-Lloyd Archive into an epic poem. Connecting contemporary lives to a story from our shared past, through the series of community-based choir and music workshops, Kamfer’s poem became the basis for the lyrics and rhapsodic musical composition that lie at the heart of the film.

“The journey of Tears Become Rain started in September 2019, shortly after the Social Impact Arts Prize was launched.” recalls David. “As an artist working in the sphere of public art, I felt deeply moved to create a project proposal. I knew I wanted to work collaboratively, so I called up my friend of twenty years, Raiven Hansmann, an accomplished musician and music producer, and told him we were going to Graaff-Reinet on a research trip.”

“Arriving in the historic Karoo town, we began by talking with people. At the end of our ten-day trip, we had conducted over fifteen interviews with pastors, museum directors, teachers, shopkeepers, and archaeologists. Doing so we realised that the people of Graaff-Reinet were united by two things,” says the artist. “The townsfolk were living through the most catastrophic drought, and that everybody, absolutely everybody loves to sing”.

Coinciding with the lifting of South Africa’s hard lockdown and the suspension of the interprovincial travel ban, David and his team seized the opportunity and returned to Graaff-Reinet for a two-week-long creative workshop. The creative team hand picked twelve of the town’s best singers to form an all-star choir that reflected the many choirs, diverse choral genres and language groups present in Graaff-Reinet.

During the creative workshops, hosted at the John Rupert Theatre, the team facilitated a process whereby the newly-minted choir began to put Roldeda S. Kamfer’s poem to music. Different stanzas of the poem were given to choir members to interpret in their unique singing styles. These stanzas were put back together, forming a cohesive song which was rehearsed and then recorded in the mobile recording studio set up in the theatre. This was a remarkable feat considering that this choir had never sung together before, and that for the majority of the singers this was their first-time recording music in a studio.

Simultaneous to the musical workshop, David along with the very small film crew, worked with three first time actors from Graaff-Reinet to shoot a series of live action sequences in the surrounding landscape. Having never been in front of a camera before, these first-time actors transformed themselves into the film’s lead characters.

This film can be viewed on Latitudes Online from 16 June – 31 July 2021. The accompanying immersive online exhibition also chronicles the multifaceted community arts workshops out of which the film arose.

Looking for more on art? Take a look at the new Roger Ballen Centre for Photographic Art.