United Colours of Africa

Maskanda : Indigenous Music of Kwa Zulu Natal


The Zulu people live today in Southern Africa, Kwa Zulu Natal. Zulu comes from the word Phezulu, meaning above. The Zulu believe they are people from above, from heaven.

Common to each healing situation are the healer, the sick and the song. For example the Zulu word for healer, iSangoma can mean that which is like music / dance.

Maskanda means a virtuoso instrumentalist who plays traditional music on the Western instruments. Maskanda' was termed after the Afrikaans word ' musikante ' to mean musician. Many words in Zulu are adapted from Afrikaans such as (tafel).

Maskanda is music played by the man on the move. We used to say someone who was just walking playing his guitar was “umakikele okwahe,” cutting it in his own way.

Maskanda has become strongly associated with the guitar. The guitar (isiginga) could have been introduced by Portuguese explorers as early as the 1880's through the sailors on the ships through the port city of Durban. .

The ikatari is the homemade version of the guitar. Many great musicians began their careers on such an instrument.

The first style a guitarist learnt to play would be the style most commonly heard in his home area, the style of his roots. Until the 1950's the technique most commonly used in playing the guitar was ukuvamba (vamping style).

Maskanda has been known as ‘Zulu Blues,' cyclical, repetitive and with a fingerpicking style.

John Bhengu 'Phuzushukela' (drink the Sugar) (1930 – 1985) is attributed to be the inventor of the ukupika or ukunanza style. There was a guitarist Robert Mthemba that was playing this style at the time. The tuning of the guitar was changed. The first string was taken down a whole tone from E to D.

The Isipoyinandi style the first 3 strings are tuned to a high pitch. The style indicated in the introduction must follow in the song itself. The mixing of styles within a song is unacceptable.


Many of the styles of maskanda are named after the dance forms umzansi, isiShameni, isiBhaca, isiKhuze.

Typically in Maskanda, the song starts with a message (izihlabo). "This is what I am about to play and this is who I am."

Izibongo (praise poetry) may accompany the dance to name and respect the authors (like a traditional copyright). Singer recounts lineage to identify ones-self. There can be sophisticated social or political commentary. Izimbongi – this is where I come from. The izihlabo is a message. “This is what I am about to play and this is who I am.”

During 1929 – 1939 Ngoma was banned and then unbaned by the white authorities of Durban. Ngoma has 4 distinct yet related aspects, movement, costume, music and song.

In the guitar what is represented is the different voices of the people.

IsiZulu is referred to that belonging to the North. Ezansi is music from South and central. The umzansi style is described as having a ‘strong beat' which refers to the inherent dance beat on which the style is based. Umzansi is isiZulu sasezani (the Zulu style of the South).

Isashamani dance was created by Jubelie Dubazane. This dance is played by musicians from Kranskop and Nkandla.

There are many different styles played by different people in the various places where they live. People dance, play drums and clap in different ways. The dances performed can be rooted in the district or region where the maskanda comes from.

Maskanda is alive to the youth as it has carried change.

The giants of Maskanda festival and the Zulu traditional Dance Competition promotes this music genre. An annual competition crowns a 'bull' of Maskanda, Names such as Mfazonyama, Shiyani Ngobo, Sipho Mcunu, Hashi Mhlope have won this prize.

The concertina was very popular in playing polyphonic indigenous music as it is capable of imitating voices in a polyphonic setting. This instrument was inherited from Boere Orkes. The concertina, unlike the guitar, is said to make a man out of its player. The guitar is known for its powers to seduce a young woman's heart in courting. The guitars Zulu name, isiginga, suggests its percussive sound. Maskanda may also mean a musical group leader. Guitar must be played by those who care little about life, but music.

The word maskanda is used interchangeably to allude to umbhidi (the conductor) as well as to mean a virtuoso instrumentalist who plays traditional music on the Western instruments.


Much information extracted from A Study of the Guitar Styles in Zulu Maskanda Music by Nollene Jacquine Davies : With special thanks to "the hymns of Isaiah Shembe, Izihlabelo Zamanazaretha," B.N Mthethwa.


Isaiah Shembe and the sacred dance called UKUSINA

“Work accomplished in song becomes an act of worship.”

Shembe was born in 1865. Shembe died May 2 1936.

The story of Isaiah Shembe and his compositions is one of the most outstanding examples of a healing music. He was one of the first known maskanda's or ‘musikantes'; minstrels. He played his bandoneon to sooth the wandering minds of gorgeous maidens. As he began to mature, he desisted from useless womanizing and actively sought his higher purpose. uNkulunkulu saw this and spoke with Isaiah on the Mountain . When Isaiah returned from the mountain, his attitude became very progressive and his music took on a healing purpose. He would play mouthbow (ugubhu) in a musical meditation, sometimes throughout the night. He was driven to leave something behind for mankind, a footpath for us to find our way back to uNkulunkulu. Amongst a number of great deeds such as setting up the craft traders on the beachfront, Isaiah composed a single eternal music called sacred dance or uKusina.

In the Nongoma district there is a mountain range called Mzazela. He met with uNkulunkulu on the sacred mountaintops of KwaZulu Natal. He waited two weeks in the mountain before hearing from uNkulunkulu.

Isaiah Shembe would overcome his physical fatigue and spiritual depression through long hours of meditation, an act which would involve singing to the accompaniment of his ugubhu musical bow throughout the night. The word for a rounded artist is called igaqu. Shembe was a typical igaqu as he was able to merge the three art forms namely poetry, music and dance very successfully.

His compositions were mighty and had an indelible impact that reverberates to this day! Isaiah Shembe's compositions are performed by regimented communities of people in a constant and meditative interaction of movement and rhythm. Words can barely describe a sighting of this ritual performance. It is powerful and has developed the description, ukusina, meaning sacred dance. Ukusina is too holy to be tainted with any form of evil.

In the creation of ukusina, Isaiah Shembe modified isigekle, with its solemn mood and controlled movement. The melody of the ukusina compositions are played on lengthy steel horns. His teachings were through music, the sacred dance and the hymns in call and response. Isaiah Shembe asked his followers not to weep when he died because through his death, God intended using him elsewhere where he would provoke a world war that would lead to the liberation of Africa. I believe we are currently experiencing the liberation of Africa.

Isaiah Shembe was extremely active in his lifetime. On the communal farms he established throughout Natal , Shembe pioneered rational and humane treatment of livestock. He was the instigator of the Durban bead and craft traders on the beachfront. Isaiah Shembe in reaction to the many African ladies being employed as domestic servants, called a meeting. He asked the ladies to learn to do beadworks as he had an idea to set up informal markets on the beachfront.

He has said: “People should rely on their own hard work to provide for their needs, and refrain from charity and beggary.”

“In the unused spaces in the grounds of big homes in towns, they should build houses and use them to let and give the money to woman and orphans."

Robert Papini of the Kwa Muhle museum has researched and written the following: Isaiah Shembe was remembered as “a compound of gentleness and severity who loved all things.” He had ‘green fingers' and would tell his sons not to sever trees branches asking, ‘How if I were to cut of the fingers from your hand?” When a mamba appeared on Ekuphakemeni dance ground, the men asked if they could kill it, but Isaiah Shembe warned that this was in fact a person.

Isaiah Shembe's places of worship were outdoors, denoted by an encircling of white stones, often laid around a great grandfather tree.

During his lifetime Isaiah Shembe created a church which today is one of the biggest in Africa with approximately 4 million followers. However the Shembe church is all split up as they have drifted from the original teaching of their prophet. One hopes for the miracle that will re-create the unity. One prays the current tributaries of the Shembe will meet and flow back into the same great river that flows from the source.

Prophet Isaiah Shembe is attributed for many great inventions typical to Southern Africa and Kwa Zulu Natal. He invented the sacred dance (ukusina in Zulu) and the giant horn, now famously called the vuvuzela.

His teachings were through music, the sacred dance and the hymns in call and response.

His compositions are mighty and have an indelible impact that reverberates to this day! Isaiah Shembe's compositions are performed by regimented communities of people in a constant and meditative interaction of movement and rhythm. Words can barely describe a sighting of this ritual performance. It is powerful and has developed the description, ukusina, meaning sacred dance.

Even though separated by a distance unbridgeable through time and space, the musical structure of Isaiah Shembe's ukusina and the sacred music of Tibet is alike. His followers perform the ukusina in a graceful and gradual regimentation with the warriors, the widowers, the male youths and the virgins all moving in and out and amongst one another in a splendid dance step that tens of thousands of people can perform without stopping for months on end!

The melody of the ukusina compositions are played on lengthy steel horns. They can produce two or three distinct tones and are played alongside each other interchanging like a mouth organ.

These were developed from antelope, ox and/or kudu horns during the life-time of the Prophet. Some hundred years after his death, the great steel horns of the Shembe were made on mass in plastic. They were called the vuvuzela and became crucial accompaniments for South African (Bafana Bafana) soccer fans who would blast them in unison at a soccer match. They became such a powerful instrument that could signal the united advance of a team, that they became banned at soccer matches in Europe.

Isaiah Shembe was posthumously awarded the copyright for the vuvuzela. On his death bed, Isaiah Shembe told his followers not to mourn him as he was going to the afterlife to start a war that would free his African people. And so it happened through music. Trevor Noah makes terrifc jokes about the effect of the vuvuzela on the soccer loving public of Europe.

The prophet, Isaiah Shembe, would overcome physical fatigue and spiritual depression through long hours of meditation, an act which would involve singing to the accompaniment of his ugubhu musical bow throughout the night.

THE HYMNS OF ISAIAH SHEMBE Lalela Zulu : recorded by Hugh Tracey

“Listen O Zulu
Listen, her are people who pester me :
About our land they bother me .

We have the nations conspiring
Conspiring against you ;
They make bird-like noises

When we talk of birds, we talk of amahlokohloko
Which consume the harvest in the field
The field of Dingane and Senzangakhona

Lo! See how they have laid it to waste.
Mnyayiza tells us they have :
Mnyayiza the scion of Ndabuko means “a place of spiritual upliftment.”

”God you are the Sun. Shine upon us all. Your ways are numerous. Through which you express love for a human being.”

Ekuphakemeni :

Ximba talks of the prophet Isaiah Shembe. “During his life there were many Indians and Whites in the church so they could preach. There is a preacher in Atlanta!”

“Shembe is only 100 years old. It is a new religion formed from the oldest of all. It was established in Ethiopia where Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus had been, it is from where humankind originated. Isaiah Shembe revived the religion. Prophet designed the teachings and the singings to be one thing – hymns. There is a prayer for the day and a prayer for the night ; Wokulala.”

He quotes from the hymn book. “Because he is Righteous. He remembered Africa. He did not forget his people. He sent Isaiah as his servant.” And speaks again of the prophet.

“Isaiah met God in person, God told him to meet him in the mountain where we go to pray. Isaiah was 40 years old. He came from the rural areas. He was two weeks in the mountain waiting for God to come. With thunder and rain it was terrifying so he went to the top of the mountain and he heard the voice told him to look toward the sunrise and there he saw the light of the whole world coming from a person in a white robe !”

He speaks of the same mountain the Shembe followers take their pilgrimage too annually to this day. To Isaiah God did say: “I want to recreate an African nation from heaven and earth which was destroyed by colonialisation. All African people will be united under one nation as a nation of God on Earth.” This quote appears to be lost in translation... Italian proverb : “the translator is the traitor.”

Mr Ximba says, “the nationhood is both political and spiritual. Africa needs to be liberated physically. Some social problems first and thereafter proceed and tell people about heaven. God created people differently for reasons. We are fighting because we have alleviated from the law of God.”

The Shembe church begin fighting in 1976 after death of the Shembe II. Shembe II had taken his fathers followers and in a lifetime converted their faith into a church. He went as far as altering his fathers hymns. Ximba confirms, “In 1976 after Shembe II there has been turmoil. Shembe III was known as Pillar of fire. He was assassinated by apartheid government in 1989. Black on black violence was initiated by the government, Shembe III was preaching not to fight amongst themselves.”

Isaiah performed many miracles. However today, the problem with miracles is people worship that. Our teachings are how to live your life. The miracle is one : you worship God and you make sure you observe the law. “

When I first visited Ekuphakemeni in 2007 white stones humbly illustrated the sacred area whilst a small pile of 3 stones illustrated where the turn off was. Nowadays the turn off and every road is lined with a wall of white stones !

The Prophet Isaiah had his place of worship outdoors. The stones were used to demarcate a scared space. That is why you often see the white stones dotted around a great big tree. That is the place of worship, free and fare as the prophet intended.

The house of the tabernacles where the holy vessels and ark of the covenant is kept was built in 1922. Isaiah Shembe died in 1935. The church hall was built in 1944 by Shembe II, second son fn the prophet.

Shembe 1V gives a drawn out and solemn sermon (he speaks about self empowerment). When the well handled brown R20 notes come out of the congregations pockets and the grown men shuffle on their knees to the feet of the new pope, I leave. Mr Ximba apologises for the punishment. We had indeed spent four hours seated with our bottoms on straw mats and our legs extended straight out like a long distance drive. I inform him it was a blessing. He says, “If you punish the flesh the soul become happy, if you punish the soul the flesh become happy.”

Drum images of Shembe ...

DM1999063001:SAED:RELIGION:SEP1963 - Churchman of the hills - Shembe is a traditional Zulu church. It is also called the church of Nazareth and has many Indian followers. Reverend Johannes Galilie Shembe had the 15000 strong Nazareth church. As Mr shembe sat at a table giving audiences to members of his flock, bare-breasted women in a long, writhing row sang and danced to the sound of drums and bizarre off-beat noises from battered trumpets. (Photograph by Drum photographer © Baileys Archives) Natal, traditional.

The late Mashizolo ...

There are a number of musical instruments that were homemade renditions of the Western counterparts. Sefinjolo was derived from Dutch viool means violin.

There was also the ramkie. Ramkie was a name developed from Portuguese rabeca pequena, a little violin. It is an imitated instrument which the slaves of Malabar brought with them.

Setinkane derived from English tin can, is a guitar. In Zulu the instrument is also known as udloko. It means : "one who takes care of the journey." It is a traditional violin. Khoisan name is !gauwkha:s

Princess Constance Magoga kaDinuzulu kaCetshwayo kaMpande kaSenzangakhona

Born at the Usuthu royal homestead at Nongoma in 1900, Princess Constance Magoga kaDinuzulu kaCetshwayo kaMpande kaSenzangakhona is a direct descendent of the Zulu royal lineage. Her father was the late paramount chief Dinuzulu (1868 – 1913) son of King Cetshwayo, son of Mpande, son of Senzangakhona, and brother of Shaka and Dingane). Princess Magoga was the first child born to Silomo (daughter of Ntuzwa, son of Ntlaka, of the Mdlalose clan) principle wife of Dinizulu, after Dinizulu's return from banishment on the island of St. Helena after the Anglo-Boer war.

Her earliest musical education, so she claims, was at the hands of her grandmothers, the widowed queens of King Cetshwayo, in whose huts she frequently slept as a child, as well as her mother and her mothers co-wives. On one occasion the Princess narrowly escaped death through the jealousy of another of the wives of Dinizulu. During the Bhambatha rebellion the Princess was sent to live in safety with the Buthulezi clan, where she was cared for by Sonkeshana. When peace returned she went back to her parents. Her mother, Silomo, died soon afterwards and the responsibility fell upon Princess Magoga, at an early age , to look after her two brothers, Solomon Maphumuzana Nkayishana, and Mshiyeni, until such time as they obtained wives of their own. (Solomon later reigned as Paramount Chief from 1916 to 1933, and Mshiyeni served as regent from 1933 to 1945 during the minority of Solomons's heir, Cyprian).

Princess Magoga attended Nkonjeni school, at Mahlabathini, where she learned to read and write in Zulu, but did not study English. After he fathers death, and the accession of brother Solomon as Paramount Chief, the royal capital was sent further North and Princess Magoga went to live there also. In 1923, her brother, Paramount Chief Solomon, sent an emissary to the ruling chief of the Buthulezi clan, Chief Mathole, to suggest that a marriage be arranged between him and Princess Magoga. Chief Mathole responded according to strict Zulu etiquette, by giving the messenger a present of snuff, thereby indicating his assent to the proposition. She became his tenth, but principle wife. Marriage cattle, amounting to 118, and a cash dowry of pounds 44, were subscribed by the Buthulezi clan as a whole., and the marriage festivities continued for two weeks.

Chief Mathole built for the Princess a new homestead, named kwaPhindangene, on the hills above Mahlabathini. This has remained her home ever since and is now also the home of her first born son, Chief Ashpenaz Nathan Mangosutho Gatsha Buthulezi, who is now Chief Executive Councillor of the kwaZulu Government. The Princess also has two daughters, Morgina Phikabesho (now married to Dr. Dotwana) and Admara Phhokunani (now Mrs. Vilakazi). She is blessed with many grandchildren, to whom she makes a point of passing on treasures from the Zulu and Buthulezi musical heritage. The Buthulezi were the first of many related clans to be conquered by Shaka, in the early nineteenth century, and incorporated into the Zulu nation. Throughout their subsequent history the Buthulezi have always maintained a specially close relationship to the Zulu royal lineage. Ngqengelele (born 1790) served as a personal steward to Shaka. After Shaka's death, Klwana rose to become one of Dingane's war-captains. Thereafter, Mnyamana held the same position under Mpande, and in Cetshwayo's time became virtual prime minister of the Zulu nation. Succession in the Buthulezi chieftainship passed on through his descendents, Tshanibezwe (died 1906) and Mathole (late husband of Princess Magoga). David Rycroft :

Her talents received a wider audience in 1939, when the late Dr Hugh Tracey made a number of recordings of her performances. Contemporary performers pay tribute to Princess Magoga. There is the Makhulu and Simo Buthelezi Indigenous Band featuring Khaya Dlamini. The instruments featured will be Makhweyane, Isitotorotoro, Drumming and Shakers. There will be praise singing and lullaby songs.



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