South Africa Music 3


It is difficult to define traditional music but I say tap dancing is, because African Americans added steel objects to their shoes and made them tell a story.  I equate traditional with original.
What exactly is traditional music?  Is it the language, improvised instruments like tap dancing shoes or a making an old washing board sing?  In Africa, instruments made from animal skins, reeds, horns, bones dried pumpkin etc. are as many as stars in the sky.

It is therefore difficult to define South African traditional music.  Take Busi Mhlongo in her album African Classics for example.  Listen closely to tracks such as Ntandane and Mfaz’Ongaphesheya.
Mfaz’Ongaphesheya is a game we used to play, in the form of call and answer and the song is popular because Busi did not deviate from it.  We did not know at the time that such games taught us the language isiZulu.  Her grunts and chopping her voice used to be standard in Zulu traditional music.  Once again I use that term sparingly.

I regard Mqgashiyo Ndlovu as traditional because he also sings amahubo, songs men sang at the royal palace praising the king, preparing for war or remembering the wars they won.  In one album, he has a song about why he is in a wheel chair. 

Maskandi is sung mainly in Zulu.  Its signature is self-identification where the singer describes who he is, his father and the river that sustains his ancestral land, but I lost interest when singers repeated three lines for four minutes.  Phuzekhemisi and Mfaz’Omnyama are regarded as traditional musicians.
It might even be academic to define traditional music in 2014.  We had re-mixing yesterday.  Today we have digital mice that eat any kind of music to crumbs, traditional or not.

This list is not exhaustive.  It is a starter pack.  Buy some music when you are visiting the country.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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