United Colours of Africa


"If the roots of your art are firmly planted in your own Soil, and that soil has anything to give you, you may still gain the whole world and not lose your own soul." RV Williams.


Hugh Tracey was born in 1903 in England. His father was a country doctor and preacher. In 1929 he came to Southern Rhodesia to join his brother an ex serviceman in the second world war, to help on the farm. He was near Mashingo and he loved Karanga, which he spoke fluently. While learning the language he learnt the songs and drumming on the farm. He published his first book ‘Songs of the Kraal.'

Hugh Tracey's achievements are well known in the recordings of indigenous African music. He made recording an art in communicating and decoding the expression of the musicians; in translating the language in the lyrics and narrative into English; and the music into high quality sound recordings. Hugh Tracey was known as magadagada, like a sewing machine that never stopped. He achieved to put African music on the map. He had a great love for the composers and musicians of Southern Africa. He wrote: “Accomplished musicians the world over belong to a kind of a guild which can be detected in their manner and bearing – regardless of social, racial or economic background. It was largely on this account that I managed to discover so large an elite of musicians at all levels of African society during the course of the tours,”

The liner notes of the records state, “Tracey's hand held microphone technique was a reason for the clarity of his recordings; he never used a stand, on the principle that the performers had no experience of working to a microphone. At the end of each session he invariably played back the tape to the delight of the performers. He noted on one occasion, an mbira player on hearing himself played back, said, “I can die now, it does not matter, because I am inside that record now.”

“In 1931 Hugh Tracey visited the Royal College of Music in London and met composers Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. He played his recordings from Zimbabwe to them and they enthusiastically encouraged him to discover and record. Future musicians, they said, would greatly benefit.”

In his career spanning 50 years, he lead 19 field excursions throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These were long trips with a crew, several vehicles and a diesel generator that would have to be parked a long way away so that it would not be heard. He kept notebooks detailing the environment and circumstances in which the communities were living. He recorded over 3000 musical items and collected over 400 musical instruments, wrote a dozen books and countless essays, presentations and scripts.

He published as much as he could in his own lifetime through the establishment of ILAM (International Library of African Music), and their publication African Music Journal. ILAM was built in 1954 on a farm in Johannesburg. It has been called, “One of the greatest depositories of African music.”

The majority of all this music of Africa Hugh Tracey recorded has been not so much composed as remembered. It is folk music. “Knowledge of this kind is the very stuff of education,” wrote Hugh Tracey. “It may well be that local folk music is one of Africa's most important social assets,” he writes. “Folk musics are handed on from father to son, from musician to musician. Folk music is always alive in the minds of the people. It requires the immediate response of the folk around to participate in a form which they can manage.”

Hugh Tracey draws an interesting comparison between African music (which he describes as dynamic) and Western music (as aesthetic). All African music shares practicality in common. “Every piece of folk music works for its living,” he writes. Hugh Tracey's life work was to ensure that African culture would not be lost or forgotten to the African people. Traditional cultural practices of dance, music and instruments are preserved together with a foundation of great wisdom.

“The musical arts of Africa provide a channel, a veritable fiord, into the heart of African spiritualities. If the composers know their own hearts, they become our mouths," says Hugh Tracey. It is believed that ancestral spirits mediate between the living and the ‘Supreme being.' They are watching over their families like a ‘cloud of witnesses.' He wrote: ‘Ancestral spirits mediate between the living and God, the supreme being 'Mulingqangi'. His/Her pleasure is music and dance.'

Music is a calling. “Patriotic and nostalgic considerations apart, there should always be room in formal education for a study of one's own national music, and today more so than ever, with radio entertainment making unparall eled demands upon musicians, and “majority rule” in music threatening to make Americans of us all,” writes Hugh Tracey.

Hugh Tracey presented a paper on the 24th September 1965 at Liverpool University entitled ‘A Plan for African Music.' He quoted Sir Herbert Read as saying “art is a token of mutual understanding,” and then saying himself that “Art is identical with Education.” Hugh Tracey's ideal was “to bring indigenous African arts and particularly African music into the normal curriculum of African schools, colleges and eventually into the Universities themselves. ”

“We are to codify the logic which lies behind the creation of indigenous styles of music a nd thus to bring it naturally, without prejudice, into the realm of African education, ” said Tracey.

Hugh Tracey was fascinated by the mbira (thumb piano). This instrument is unique to Africa. From the design of the mbira he created an instrument called kalimba which was ‘a blend of the traditional African idea of the mbira and a western scale.' The company African Musical Instruments (AMI) was born to accommodate the demand for this instrument that came initially from America in the late 1950's. The instrument factory, African Musical Instruments (AMI) was set up on the farm.


From a small child on the mothers back, to an unborn child in the mothers womb, to a toddler banging the drum in his mothers lap. From a young child dancing with the ankle beads, to a young maiden playing uhadi, to a married women playing all the instruments and to a mother with a child. The cycle of traditional music continues endlessly through the Xhosa tradition from conception to death, from incarnation to afterlife.

The African experience is a continuation of poetry music and dance. Music is the foundation of African education. Music is part of the child's everyday life. As soon as the child is able to walk, s/he is encouraged to dance. Dance is a product of song. In Zulu : Melody (indlela) is translated to mean a footpath and Music (umculo) to mean singing. They say, “If you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance.”

Rhythm is the heartbeat of a song. As long as the heartbeat of the song is pumping the song has life. The starting point for African rhythm is in the present moment. Rhythm is something that is yours that you call on when it is needed. It is something that is inherent and it is shared. It exists within the human framework. It mirrors the rhythm of our mother earth which has her own heartbeat.

Ancient music does not express its mathematic foundation through the division and addition of time the same way we do in the West. Cyclical time is existing inside and outside of time and through cyclical time you are creating more experience (as seen by the action off the circular shape as opposed to linear) in the same time as plotted on the linear line. There is no obstacle to rhythm : These are the types of rhythms we can employ: The Walking Rhythm relies on the pace that I walk; The Dancing Rhythm expresses the joy in my stride; The Meditative Rhythm brings chants from my soul.

Rhythm is musical language that has a frequency resonation and vibration all of its own. Polyrhythm keeps the dance alive and exciting.

Common to each healing situation are the healer, the sick and the song. The bow is commonly used for divination. For example the Zulu word for healer, iSangoma can mean that which is like music / dance. In the case of Nosinothi Dumiso she became ill, and began to go blind in one eye. This was interpreted as a call from the ancestors that she must become a diviner (thwasa). The way she chose to become a medium was to take up playing the uhadi. 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 indigenous people of Southern Africa created a vast variety of home made instruments that resonated with their inner, outer and extra "tainment." The instruments were a part of both nature and nurture ...

In Zulu mythology, the incomparable Princess Marimba was chieftainness of the Wakambi Tribe, and the mother of the Bantu people, the second seeding of human beings. She was said also to be the mother of music who gave many musical instruments their origin.

Credo Mutwa writes, “Marimba was the most famous and beautiful woman that ever lived. Marimba, the mother of music gave the tribes some of the oldest and most beautiful songs on earth and invented countless musical instruments.” ... “Marimba invented many more songs: love songs, hunting songs and even songs to sing when a beloved one was interred. She invented the xylophone, which is still called the marimba to this day. People sang and whistled and their souls were uplifted by the melodies and tunes their immortal queen had given them.” ... "Human beings held feasts and dances and came to know again the soothing joy that beautiful tunes bring to depressed and life-weary souls.”

Music is connected to the laws of the universe and the cosmology of our creation. In African mythology it is the ancestors who may be invocated through music and musical instruments. Ancestors rejoice to the sound of music. Animal symbolism is also important in African mythology. The symbolism of the crocodile, which lives to a very great age, often accompanies musical instruments. This longevity of the crocodile can be imparted when the pebbles from the crocodiles' stomach are swallowed. The python is central to the very beginning of creation. A python's skin is worn by barren women to help them conceive.


"The African mother sings to her child and introduces him to many aspects of music right from the cradle." AN

According to Western spiritualists there are three categories of musical instruments, wind instuments that represent the mind, percussion instruments that represent the limbs and string instruments that represent the heart ... This is an interesting categorisation and separation of the qualitoes of music making. However, in the African context there is a fourth group of musical instruments, and these are body or natural instruments that represent the all - the united purpose of making ...

Clapping and stamping is the participative element to group dances. Our hands and feet are some of the most primary and essential instruments. With these you are always a musician and in the performance.


"The African mother sings to her child and introduces him to many aspects of music right from the cradle." AN

The most common form of musical instrument is the human voice. We use our voices for making musical notes and also for expressing thoughts in words. It is the combination of notes and words which makes the voice such a wonderful instrument. African culture is an example to the world of how to use the power of your voice and how to keep it as a central part of chilldrens upbringing. To develop your voice is to develop yourself.

A special type of humming is sometimes used. In Zululand the humming which imitates the sound of the rock pigeon is called uku-vukutha. Cries, ululation, animal and bird calls may also be used in the performance of songs or as the spirit moves. The traditional vocal music of Southern Africa also gave rise to a mode of a capella singing and involved elaborate call and response patterns. This made a massive impact on the world of music under the Zulu name of Ischatimiya. It is a tradition associated historically with migrant labour.


As an adjunct to the dance , rattles of different kinds are almost invariably used. These are also known as idiophones as the initial vibrator is solid material that vibrates by virtue of its own rigidity. Primary rattles are held in the hand and played. Secondary rattles are worn on the body of performers and activated by their movements, or attached to other instruments as modifiers.

Some diviners apprentices have leg rattles of woven (and then dried) reeds from ankle to nearly the knee called iingcacu. Whilst most sing and clap, some will dance, especially those wearing iingcacu. The girls umtshotsho dress is also called after the skirt they wear called ijikolo. The girls also wear waist beads (iintsimbi zesinqe), chest beads (iin-tandela), neck beads (i-thumbu), thicker bangles (iin-kohlwane) on the lower arms. The girls do not dance but when they clap, the iinkholwane bangles make an audible sound. The Venda use monkey oranges with stones inside for the rattle. They call it Tshizambi: The Shangaan / Tsonga name is xizambi The Zulu name is derivative, it is xizombi. In the Venda exorcism ceremonies there is a special official called maine vha tsele (the diviner of the rattle). This diviner is responsible for singing the special Malombo song of exorcism. Igaqi is a small calabash containing small stones worn on the penis, the sensitive areas being protected by goat skin. Izinkunjane are ankle rattles made by encasing pebbles in small pieces of skin.

Burchell 1812 observed of the Bushmen : “Round each ankle he wore a set of rattles made (in this instance) of four ears of the springbuck, sewed up and containing a quality of small pieces of ostrich egg shell which at every motion of the feet produced a sound…” Called Keritar these rattles were made by women and used by men. The Pedi also use leg rattles consisting of long strings of cocoons called dichela.


As the epic tale of Princess Marimba is told in Indaba My Children, we read about the occasion that the cooks could no longer prepare Marimba's favourite meal of stamped peanuts as the mortar had finally worn through at the bottom and was nothing but a hollow log. Princess Marimba transformed the mortar into a drum to add more pleasure to the lives of the people on their paths of peace and wisdom. With the skin of a newly killed wildebeest, and the expertise of a woodcarver, the first drum wasa made in the Royal Hut of the Wakambi. Mutwa writes, "For the first time since the dawn of creation, the forests shook to the pulsing beat of a drum."

They made drums of different sizes, each with a different quality of sound, from the loud hollow boom to the gentle pow-pow. The big ones were known as the ‘male-drums;' smaller ones were ‘female drums,' and the very small ones that children could carry around were known as ‘sparrow drums.'

“The largest drums she ordered to be reserved for purposes of worship only and these had the symbol of the River of Eternity carved into them in a continuous pattern all round, and on many of these drums were also carved symbols representing passages from the great poems of creation and sacred symbols of Spiritual Secret Knowledge. This she did to preserve the knowledge of the Wakambi for all time. Men were elected to look after these drums and this became their sole duty in life. These ‘Drummers of High honour' had to daub the instruments periodically with animal fat to preserve both the wood and the skin. When a drum was attacked by a wood-boring pest they had to wrap it in wet animal skins and then leave it to steam in a hollow anthill which had been heated by a fire until it was red hot...

“When a drum deteriorated beyond repair it was the duty of the oldest woodcarver to carve a new one – an exact replica in every detail, and the old one was buried with the full burial honours with which a chief is buried….

The drum is sacred and powerful and there is much evidence for its continued relevance in our culture at ILAM : The magic drum of the Venda is used for protection in war. The drum of the Venda is ngoma. It has considerable weight. Before the skin is stretched over the drum, one or two stones, called mbwebi, are dropped into the shell. These have been supplied by the doctor and have come from the stomach of the ngwenya or crocodile, which is the totem animal of the Venda. The ngoma is beaten by the chief himself in order to bring rain. The sound of the drum is like thunder, and thunder preceeds rain. Invocations would be chanted and two or more of the men 'inspired by the spirits' would play a squeker 'Sitlanjani which represented the voices of the Gods'.

One of the Zulu words for shield is ihawu and is one of the principle drums of the Zulu. Pedi drum is called Moropa and is a hollowed out of a single block of wood. The witch doctor sometimes orders the women to play the maropa in order to assist him in exorcising an evil spirit which has possessed someone. The Sotho used to make moropa from the milk jug of wood and only began to use clay when suitable wood began to get scarce in Basutoland.

Exorcism (macomane) is one of the more important musical practices among the Shangaan, involving possession dance, playing the special ncomane tambourine, from which the rite obtains its name. The distribution of this tambourine is as far as Siberia and Mesoamerica, usually with a medicinal use. With the Shangaan drumming is part and parcel of every child's education: The Shangaan xigubu drumming school teaches (1) drum manufacture (2) drum instruction (3) learning of didactic ideophones (4) learning of drum and voice conversations (call and response between voice and drums) (5) the learning of a special body of songs (6) the organization of a xifase competitive dance team which visits other villages.

The Bushmen had a friction drum made from a clay pot or wooden cylinder covered with a thin membrane, with a tiny perforation in the centre through which a straw was passed and secured on the underside. The performer wetting his fingers drew them along the straw, and the strong vibrations thus begun was communicated to the membrane which gave forth a roaring sound of variable pitch. According to the variation in pressure and speed with which the fingers were drawn along the straw. //khais is made from wooden mlk jar. //hors stretched goatskin covered this. Of the Bushmen it is the woman who made and played the drums for the men to dance. Grevenbroek 1689 writes: “Their women sing an old song, nearly always the same, and to accompany it they strike their hands on a skin which is stretched over a pot and which is made fast by bands. The tambourine players sit with legs crossed, raising their eyes to heaven and moon and then lowering them toward the ground and to the pot filled with milk, making their music in their own way and with redoubled shrieking.”


Mutwa writes, “With the birth of the drum came the birth of new dances ... dances like the bupiro-mukiti, or the dance of life, performed by both male and female dancers, or the chukuza ya sandanda, the dance of the baboon, which is performed by male dancers only. This is the most muscle punishing dance that can ever be performed. All these dances were invented for one reason only – expression of tribal religion and the release of that beneficial life-force dormant in every human being, but which, when released, makes one feel closer in the ‘arms of Eternity.'" ... “Also some of the dances performed by young people, like the famous ‘love dance' of the Kavirondo, and the gqashiya of the Nguni, were invented so that the young people might find an opportunity to use up their excess energy.”

From ancient roos to contemporary expression, dance is a crucial form of release and expression. For example the ritual asking of forgiveness of the ancestors is called ‘ukungxengxeza izinyama.' The style of dancing for diviner songs is called ‘uku-xhentsa. Diviners songs are often characterised by rapid triple pulse rhythm, and igubu drums. The chief diviner of Ngqoko, Mrs Nokontoni Manisi also uses a friction drum called isidephu.


The voice is often cited as the earliest and first instrument as the mother passed her inherent music onto her child. African culture is an example to the world of how to use the magic and power of your voice and how to keep it as a central part of chilldrens upbringing. To develop your voice is to develop yourself. In the mythology of the incomparable princess Marimba, the melodic voice (singing) developed from the musical bow. The intricate design for melodic musical instruments was often created through the turning of evil into good.

Two crucial principles inform melody ... RESONANCE AND VIBRATION ... The resonator is the means with which the musical instrument gets a grip on the air, and thus amplifies the frequency of the sound. Hollowed out objects such as the calabash (pumpkin) is ideal as a resonator to amplify the sounds ... Young boys would hold a buzzing beetle by one wing and then amplify its sound using their mouth. Living in the abundance of nature was living amongst an abundance of musical sounds and ideas.

The BULL ROARER developed synchronously all over the world. It was in Greece, Aboroginal Australia, South America and Africa. The Bushman bull-roarer is known as !goin!goin. The Khoi call their instrument burubush. The Venda call it tshivhilivhi and the Bapedi call it kgabududu. It is also sometimes referred to as a spinning disc, because the instrument is swung around in circles, producing a roaring sound. It has been used to attract insects for honey production and people have likened its sound to the buzzing of bees. The ancient Greeks had something that was a bullroarer. They called it a rombis. The bullroarers is also indigenous to the Australian Aboriginal tradition

isiGubhu is the actual word for a calabash used in drinking beer. uGubhu or ubhel'indhlela is the musical bow. A braced gourd bow is one where the string is connected at some point by another wire which pulls it back towards the rod of the bow. In Zulu it is uMakheyane, the Bushmen name is !Kung San, !Gora. !Kung San !Gora has a short quill attached to the end of the string, upon which theplayer blows to produce the resonance. 1  

The Most ancient of melodic instruments is the MUSICAL BOW developed from the hunting bow. It was the melodic pluck thAt Princess marimba used to quell the force of evil, as it was the melodic pluck the bushmen used to sooth their prey. There exists cave art in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho depicting the musical performance of the bow. The image of the cave painting shows a man tapping on the strings of seven hunting bows which have been fixed into the ground. There are other men in the background dancing. .

Mutwa writes : “(Marimba) had taken the deadly bow of the captive Masai and had fitted a gourd to the middle of the bow itself, transforming the deadly weapon of war into the first makweyana bow-harp."

"For the player, it is like grooving in the same musical idea and the effect can be very hypnotic, but at the same time it is a relief, a means of relaxing ones body and mind from tensions." Thandile Mandela 4

In Southern Africa the bow has a tremendous variety of names and variations. There are potentially an infinite number of variations of this instrument. There are bows resonated with the mouth called mouth bows and bows resonated with a calabash called gourd bows.

Musical hunting bow : There are bows without an attached resonator. They have a wood frame and a string made of twisted sinew (ox, cows tail, giraffes tail, etc.). There are many examples of this bow. Kha:s is the name given by the Bushmen to the hunting bow. The instrument was made from a branch of Besje Bos. The bushmen people also use a !gamakha's which is the Kha:s with an attached resonator. This instrument was handed over to the Tswana, they called it Nokukwane. There is legend of the venerable Ngqika (Gaika) women sang to the accompaniment an incantation about the mythical bird known as the mpundulu, or lightning bird.

Bow with resonator : Moving the opening of the calabash to and from the breast would bring out these harmonics. When a resonator is attached it is called segankuru. The Tswana boys play a kind of hide and seek game in which the segankuru plays an important part. The increase in loudness and rapidity represents the seeker is getting warmer!

Mouth resonator : When there is no calabash, the player alters the resonant sound, the harmonics of the instrument, by changing the shape of her/his mouth. Changing the shape of your mouth is used to amplify the sound of the string. Umqangala is the Zulu name of this instrument. In Sotho this is called lekope and in Xhosa inkinge. The Bushmen Nxonxoro consists of a bow bent under the tension of the string. Notches are cut into the bow and a stick is rubbed along these notches and causes the whole instrument to vibrate powerfully, while the mouth acts as a resonator.

"The bow is solitary and meditative because the player cannot talk or sing whilst playing. Her thoughts are free to wander as her walking feet become absorbed in the rhythmic complexity of the overall musical process." 4 ... A novice performer once remarked on the effects she felt from playing the bow : "The sound of the bow dissipates moving further and further into the atmosphere, releasing the performer into the universe, from the foundation of their deep seated centre in the physical world." 6


Western instruments came into Southern Africa and the port city of Durban with the sailors on the ships.

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

There was 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. The guitar (isiginga) was introduced by Portuguese explorers as early as the 1880's. The ikatari is the homemade version of the guitar. Many great musicians such as the virtuoso Madala Kunene began their careers on such an instrument.

With the MARIMBA / XYLOPHONE it was a trap designed for catching animals that was transformed into a musical instrument with te addition of Gourds.

Mutwa writes, “The xylophone is a living instrument which can bend its notes to fit the blood-warming melody of a wedding song or harshen its voice and convey to the human mind the clamour and dark horror of war – or the thrilling excitement and suspense of the hunt. Even without accompaniment of a human voice one can tell a whole story with the xylophone alone. One can use the voice of this holy instrument to create various moods in one's audience. While other instruments speak to the ears, the xylophone speaks to the heart and the soul."

There is a marimba in almost every distinct culture of Southern Africa however the development and use of the marimba is focussed particularly with the Venda in the Northern Province of Southern Africa and the Chopi in Southern Mozambique. It is on the Chopi of Mozambique's TIMBILA that the Shangaan model their mohombi marimba. The Lobedu people call it dibila. In the beautiful region of Venda, the marimba is known as mbile. The mbila maker always tries to find a dead tree. The marimba is constructed from the mutondo tree which is of special significance to the Venda.

In earlier times, the marimba maker planted his own crop of calabashes. The growing and collecting of calabashes is apparently the task of Venda women. The Venda national dance uses marimba. The first fruits ceremony is closely associated with the dancing of tshikona. Kponingbo marimba is a 9 note instrument similar to those found in Uganda and is played by three men in distinctive Zande style. The music accompanies an attractive ring of dancers in which the dancers, both men and women, complete rhythmic cycles of steps as they move in a counter-clockwise direction.

THE KALIMBA / MBIRA was invented during wartime to paralyse the enemy. From the book traditional african & oriental music by otto karolyi, a deep symbology to the instrument is presented : "The mbira with its hemispherical gourd resonators, twenty two keys and the string tied round the gourd , represents more than a much favoured instrument. The gourd is the womb of the woman; the frame, woman who are giving a hand in birth; the sound hole is seen as the deflowered girl; the keys are the men seated in a python's belly, which is believed to help woman to become fertile; the plucking of the keys is an act of creation which leads to the sound which symbolises the birth of a child."

It was on a meditation for loneliness that Marimba invented six different kinds of REED FLUTES AND PIPES. Vasco Da Gama's arrival at the Port of Natal in 1497 was heralded by flute performances. He wrote: “They at once began to play four of five flutes and some of them played high and some of them played low, harmonising together very well.” Treble pipes are called ‘Metenyane,' alto pipes ‘Dinokwane,' tenor pipes Meporo e metelele. These copper and iron pipes are stopped by wood. In Botswana these pipes are made by reed matlhaka. The Tsonga flute of heaven is associated with lightning.

Experimentation is the mother of invention, so the children showed. When they blew on flowers out came music: When they blew on wood out came music: When they blew on vibrating strings out came music: These were the whistling WHISTLING VESSELS, the Venda ocarina (tshipoyoliyo) is a hollowed out monkey-orange with three holes drilled through. The largest is used as embrouchure, and the two smaller holes are stopped in one of two ways. The songs are compared to bird calls. A whistle called utwi-twi-twi is made from the stalk of a red petalled flower. The Zulu's also make a pottery whistling vessel. The gora is a stringed wind instrument peculiar to South Africa.

But the instrument that symbolised power was when they blew on the hond of the horn of an animal. The traditional ox horn isigodlo yields one tone and was used as a signal horn to announce an important event in the community, a war, a meeting of the chief in council, or a hunting expedition. Uphondo is the general term for a horn.

INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY OF AFRICAN MUSIC (ILAM) : The International Library of African Music (ILAM) is where Hugh Tracey's incredible collection of musical instruments, recordings and writings is on display. It is known as “the greatest depository in the world.” Hugh Tracey was not an African, yet his life work was to ensure that African culture would not be lost or forgotten to the African people and so he set about to preserve the traditional cultural practices of dance, music, instrument making and playing. At ILAM we find the foundation for the transformative musical wisdom of African music. Our collective memory is nurtured by such an archive.

AFRICAN MUSIC SERIES : A collection of the music Hugh Tracey recorded is currently available to listeners in an extensive ‘African Music Series.' Here one can truly bathe in the beauty of indigenous music....like the sensitive sound of the Makweyana musical bow, the Arab lute of Dar-Es-Salem ; or songs like ‘Kundo nati pala bako' (Dance for the forefathers) played on loose note Kpo ningo xylophone from Northern Congo and ‘Hinganyengisa masingita' (listen to the mysteries) performed by Movement of the Mgodo orchestral dance, of Zavala (Mozambique) and the Prayer for Africa sung by the boys of Dombashawa School, near Harare. Such healing music!

ILAM at the NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: Grahamstown is an important cultural hub of SA with the National Arts Festival a long standing initiative for promoting indigenous music of the Eastern Cape. It's also an event at which the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) presents an annual Eastern Cape Indigenous Music and Dance Ensemble. These are very entertaining showcases of the deep musical traditions of select Xhosa sub-tribes such as amaBhaca, abaThembu, amaKhoisan, abeSuthu, amaNdiya and amaMpondo. Groups are chosen from the Isingqisethu Wild Coast Indigenous Festival. The DAC also presents a visual arts and crafts festival, a multilingual WordFest and the Dakawa jazz and community festival. www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

The International Library of African Music (Ilam) at Rhodes University and the National Arts Festival host free concerts daily in the Ilam amphitheatre. Guided tours are offered at Ilam where participants are exposed to the instrument collection, demonstrations of how to play African xylophones and mbiras, and the extensive CD series made from its founder, Hugh Tracey's field recordings. CDs', African music education textbooks, DVD's and other publications are available for purchase www.ru.co.za/ilam

ANDREW TRACEY: Andrew Tracey grew up with an African music lifestyle. “My best moment of my life,” he says, “was when I went up to the Chopi's in Mozambique to learn to play mbira. Chopi music is tremendously impressive. Chopi performance needs 50/60 people. I came back playing an impressive musician, Kadori's, mbira. I learnt to play my fathers' favourite recording called Mpunda. He was knocked out.”

After Hugh Tracey's death in 1977, his son, Andrew Tracey became the Director of ILAM.  In 1978 he moved ILAM to Rhodes University. BMus and Post Graduate degrees through the Ethnomusicology Programme were created.

I once overheard Andrew Tracey (son of Hugh, father of Geoff) conducting a guided tour of a group of scholars from Magobaskloof. Andrew grew up playing many of the traditional instruments of Southern Africa and learning the traditional songs. I listened intently as he displayed the beautiful music making that so many of the diverse instruments on display in the library can make. When Andrew took the scholars into the music studio I could have never expected to hear the most spontaneous song come gliding through the open doors. Andrew had picked up his favourite instrument, the thumb piano or mbira and had begun to pick out the rhythmical pattern of a traditional Venda song on the antiquated piano. When he began to sing the male refrain, the male scholars, themselves hailing from the Venda location of Northern Province, could not resist joining in to sing the refrains and with that the female scholars completed the song singing the response to the song and a beautiful collaborative song was sung over a few minutes. When it ended there was excitement and applause from all.

ILAM DIGITISATION PROJECT : Thousands of his recordings have been locked away for decades on old recording media such as acetate, shellac and vinyl discs, ¼" tape (since 1948), and cassette. In 1999 ILAM commenced with a digitization project with funding from the Norwegian Government (NORAD). By 2011 the entire Tracey archive was made available through the internet for public access and backed up in the ice.

ILAM REPATRINATION PROJECT : Of all the recording initiativies Hugh Tracey archive (ILAM) is amazing as he avoided the confusion of the music industry publishing and royalty systems. His work is deposited, used and distributed as "field recordings." It is true that the artists did not benefit through royalties for many years. However recently the director Diane Thram initiated a 'repatriation' project whereby the music is being returned to the artists. I do strongly believe that repatriation of the music to the artists for them to administer themselves can be mutually beneficial to all the archives and labels that have recorded African Music ...

AFRICAN MUSIC SERIES : A collection of the music Hugh Tracey recorded is currently available to listeners in an extensive ‘African Music Series.' Here one can truly bathe in the beauty of indigenous music....like the sensitive sound of the Makweyana musical bow, the Arab lute of Dar-Es-Salem ; or songs like ‘Kundo nati pala bako' (Dance for the forefathers) played on loose note Kpo ningo xylophone from Northern Congo and ‘Hinganyengisa masingita' (listen to the mysteries) performed by Movement of the Mgodo orchestral dance, of Zavala (Mozambique) and the Prayer for Africa sung by the boys of Dombashawa School, near Harare. Such healing music!

Listen too ...

Track 8 of Princess Magoga is ‘Wayengwa yintab' eshayo'

It tells the story of two girls in love with the same young man. The one became pregnant but lost the child through abortion. The other girl was very angry with her, so much so that she and her sister assaulted her for talking about it in public. They described it as ‘the deception of the burnt mountain.' Once virginity is lost, it is lost forever.

Track 10 on The Nguni Sound is ‘Isigqumza' (my blanket).

Umgquzo is song for girls initiation. In Transkei 1957, initiation for both boys and girls remains firmly entrenched in Xhosa custom, involving a period of isolation for both, with isolation in a hut for girls, and circumcision and isolation in the bush for boys. The ceremonies at the start and the end of the process involve much joy and singing.

“Where is my blanket I left in the bush? I left it, what shall I do? I've been abandoned by my father…”

If you could see the women's feet as they sing, you would feel the double rhythmic framework that underlies almost all Xhosa song. This dance was performed by the married women standing in a circle. Some of the woman had painted their faces with pale yellow ochre. They wore pale blue blankets, were lavishly decorated with beads, mostly in sky blue and white, wore calf-length beaded skirts, and a great many brass wire bracelets.

Track 21 Baba lidzela nyani (Father worries about the bird) is a wedding song for the brides party, by Masitsela at the Lobamba Palace, near Mbabane Swaziland 1958.

Losing a daughter is seen as a death in the family. However fathers sadness must certainly be tempered by the lobola bride price which he will shortly be receiving.

Music of Africa Series 15 part 2 track 4 : Timbuku / Henga Malawi ‘Cin'goma ca kubaruga.' This is a humorous song sung by Reuben Tankadi Mbuluwundi at Mufulra Copper Mine compound Zimbabwe.

This song is about a man who brought his best drum to a party. Unfortunately someone put his foot through it, and thereafter it produced some very strange noises which the leader imitates in the course of the song.

Music of Africa Series 16 Osborne 3. 8. Swati Swailand “Ngoneni ngoneni bakithi” (What have I done?) Song featuring makweyana musical bow by Rosalina Ndlole and Juana Nkosi, Mataffin Nelspruit District Mpumalanga Province SA.

This attractive and delightful little melody may well form the motif of some future Swazi composition of much larger proportion. The two Swazi women who sung it were friends and little knew how excellent was their rustic melody.

Music of Africa series 36 Guitars 2 track 6. ‘Shiya bantwana nosela ugavin' Xhosa topical song by Nomaswiti Citaumvano and Uvakutsiwo, Lusikisiki District, Pondoland, Eastern Cape Province, SA.

“you leave the children alone while you go and drink gavin.” Gavin is the local name for skookiaan, a highly fortified drink.

Music of Africa Series 36 track 12. Nahawandi (Swahili nguja) Udi Solo by Bam Amberon with Udi, the Arab Lute, Dar es Salam Tanzania.

Music of Africa series 32 MI 6 Guitars 1 : 12. ‘Iuwale – o – iuwale.' Historical song with guitar by Mbansela Kunda and William Munyanda from serenge District Zambia.

“What are you doing? The men have come. Their tents are over there behind the Chivombo river.”

Music of Africa series MI 5 Xylophones track 5. “Kondo natipata bako” Dance tune for the forefathers, on loose note Kponingbo xylophone. By Nakule and two players. At Gatanga, Bita, Northern Congo.

Track 6. “Mkazi wa mulomo” (The talkative woman.) Tune on the Magogodo loose-note xylophone by Lanesi Chewane and Jone Hetara. At Katunga Chikwana District, Malawi.

A brilliant tune played by 2 boys about 12 years old. Their instrument had about ten notes whose position on the support could be changed at will to facilitate the playing of different tunes.

The Music of Africa series 30 MI 4 Flutes and Horns track 2. “Godumaduma gwa Mosadi.” Flute tne by Tswana flute dances led by Modiseng from Western Transvaal SA.

There are four sets of single end-blown pipes, four per set. Each set covers a fifth only and is an octave lower than the one above. Al notes bear approximately the same relationship.

The Music of Africa series 31 MI 5 Xylophones track 15. “Hinganyengisa masingita” (Listen to the msyteries) Mzenzo movement of the Mgodo orchestral dance of Zavala by Katini weNyamombe and 5 players of the Timbula xylophones.

Unaided by any form of written music, the CHOPI musicians regularly compose new songs and melodies for their dances, until, as Katini, at least a hundred compositions stand to their credit, the older ones are discarded and forgotten as they are replaced by the new. “Their clear melodies, orchestral accompaniment, control of their village Timbila ensembles, and artistic integrity are all of high order and perhaps unexcelled in Africa.”

Music of Africa Series 26 Zimbabwe 1 track 7. Members of the teachers training college at St Augustines Mission, Pentalonge Mutare District. “Pimchinanga.” (The Pangolin)

This song is inspired by a familiar country scene. Small herd boys looking after their cattle see all the small creatures around them. In this case it is a scaly Pangolin, the little African ‘armadillo' which they observe walking about looking for locusts to eat. It ambles along with a curved brown back and the boys say it cannot be a creature, it must be a human, it walks just like a little old Karanga man .

Music of Africa Series 26 Zimbabwe 1 track 15. “Ishe Kombozera afrika” (God bless Africa.) Prayer for Africa by the Boys of Dombashawa school near Harare.

This is the local Zimbabwean version of the famous song composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontanga, a Xhosa evangelist in the Transkei. Originally composed as a hymn it became popular as a political anthem, translated into Bantu languages in several countries where it has been used as the national anthem.

Music of Africa Series 25 Tanzania 1 track 5 “Kimbalalizi bwaki umkweka gwaninyoile.” Wedding song by Tigalyoma Tilwesobwa and Zinza women at the village of Chief Nyalubango Wamayanda Biharamulo.

The song advises the young wife: “You must tighten your belt for now you are going to work in your own house.”

Music of Africa Series 25 Tanzania 1 track 8 Marrite – “Dance song” by Meru men and women led by Melani Mewarali At Meru Baraza, Arusha.

“My love Marrite has been taken away. I will send my friend to Morani to fetch her. Morani will go to the mission by night. The fine Marrite dance was started by Marrite who dances better than her father. Show me the way to the court so that I may report the man who stole my Marrite.” The Meru people between 6 and 700 dancers are amongst the most handsome in Africa. They were a brave sight in their beautiful costumes with their bright beads, their six foot long spears and their pastel colourd shields. The setting in which they danced was a green sward surrounded by large forest trees on the slopes of Mount Meru.

Music of Africa Series 23 : Music of the Northern Congo 2 : track 10 “Mai-o-da” three songs by Pygmy women, at Mbau-mbili, Beni, Congo.

These songs were sung by three very small woman crouching on the ground together. They said they used them all as lullabies for their children although the first was originally a song sung after fishing, the second a party song, and the third a wedding song. Each of the three women was clad in a diminutive strip of bark cloth and in addition had a small string of beads around the neck and black markings painted on the face.

Tanzanian Vocals 1950 : track 4 Meru Washu, dance song by a large group of about 600 Chagga Meru men and women led by Melany Mewarali recorded at Meru Baraza, Arusha District, Tanzania 1950.

“I have a little sister whom I love deeply. I like the Meru people because they are friendly. A young man stands out in front of the files of dancers to lead the singing. A wembe horn can be heard during the responses.”


Southern and Central Malawi Nyasaland 1950, '57, ‘58

“Present the weird and wonderful sound of the bangwe board zither. It was the minstrels instrument of Malawi. The extremely hip Malipenga music performed by a small big band of gourd kazoo's. From near the Zambezi valley magnificent likhuba deum ensembles and brilliant xylophone playing. Beautiful a capella singing. All representing the diversity of the origins of the people's of the Southern half of Malawi.” Liner notes…

Malawi originally the Marava kingdom 15th century were joined by many other Bantu groups. With the arrival of the Yao tribes and the Nguni tribes, the kingdom was disrupted. After Livingstone's arrival in the 1850's, the British claimed the Shire highlands a protectorate in the 1889. It was called Nyasaland after the Yao word Nyasa for a large expanse of water. Received independence in 1964 and became a democracy in 1994. The original people of Malawi are the Cewa and are the dominant ethnic group.

On the opening 2 recorded tracks in Chikwawa we hear the bangwe board zither, delicate and extraordinary like the sound of a kora. Played by Limited Mfundo Phiri who later became well known on Malawi Radio as a banjo player and singer. On tracks 3 and 4 recorded in the Nsanje District we hear the likhuba drum rhythm with 9 drums. Hugh Tracey noted, “The drums are weighted with castor oil bean paste. It is removed from the drum immediately after playing, or, they say, it would rot the membrane.” On track 9 we hear the ulimba xylophones. A 3 legged instrument. This type of xylophone remains very popular today among young people who dance to it at night. On tracks 11 and 12 recorded in the Tete District Mozambique we hear Afredi Phiri from Furancongo, Mozambique. Hugh Tracey noted, “The bangwe zither was resonated with a small gourd through which it was pierced. It was plucked in this item. Each string was tuned by means of a small independent wedge. The strings of the bangwe were of wire and about 15 inches long.” On track 13 recorded in the Lilongwe District we hear the Malipenga gourd kazoos. What an extraordinary sound! “Here they reproduced the sound of the military band using the easily available technique of singing into kazoo's made from the neck, or the neck-with-body, of the African calabash or gourd.” On tracks 15, 16 and 17 recorded in the Salima District we hear the bangwe board zither again. “Cewa music is largely pentatonic.” A bangwe uses one long string, stretched several times end to end along the length of the board, relying for the stability of its tuning on friction as the string passes through two holes at each end. Hugh Tracey noted, “The player held his zither sideways and plucked the far top string with the thumb of his left hand, running over the other strings with his right, alternate strings together.” On tracks 23 and 24 recorded at Kariba Dam we hear the bangwe zither. “The strumming technique used on most bangwes in Malawi has an ancient history going back to dynastic Egypt. In principle, all the strings are strummed with one hand, while the other is sued to stop those strings which should not sound at any particular moment. On track 20 recorded in Lilongwe District we hear the Sansi which is not unlike an mbira in sound. Hugh Tracey notes, “The Sansi was fixed onto the chigubu resonator by three point suspension, 2 at the straining bar and 1 at the foot, all secured by bark string. The Njela reeds were made from the spokes of an umbrella. The player said in times past the reeds used to be made of bamboo. The pentatonic Sansi is mounted in the mouth of a gourd resonator with a number of pieces of tin as buzzers, mangwere attached to two thirds of the periphery of the gourd.”

Northern and Central Malawi Nyasaland 1950, '57, ‘58

Music of the Tonga, Tumbuka and Cewa… The Tumbuka are an intermingling of diverse people. The Lakeside Tonga live on the shores of the Lake Malawi and in the hill country in the immediate vicinity. On tracks 1 – 4 we hear Beti Kamanga on the bangwe raft zither. 7 strings recorded in Chintechi District. He made his own bangwe zither from 8 papyrus stalks firmly tied together ina raft, with a gourd resonation into which the far end of the zither is placed. On track 5 we hear the 2 stringed lute, karingo performed by Maluba Mwale. The one stringed lute comes from upper Niles and has not been found South of Nyasaland and the Zambezi valley. On track 7 recorded at Mzimba District we hear the whistle. “This song was sung when the white man first came. Unlike the local people they used a whistle to give words of command and it was a novelty at the time, so found its way into folk song.” On track 9 we hear Kalimba recorded in Mzimba district. On tracks 10 and 13 we hear humorous songs with bangwe board zither. On track 14 we hear a group of 12 malipenga gourd kazoo's recorded at Kasunga as part of a Mganda dance. “The origins of this style lie with British military drill, and it is a wonderful example of taking a foreign musical tradition and adding an original flavour, thus making it Malawian.” On track 15 we hear the Ilala dance. Hugh Tracey witnessed it and noted, “The Ilala dance started in 1957 in the Fort Johnstone district. A strange dance in which dancers move their necks forward and backwards like a chicken walking. It is danced by youths standing in rows or circles and shaking their shoulders forwards and backwards and thrusting out their chins in time with the syncopation of the drums. This action requires great suppleness of the neck and upper spine.” Yao dance. On track 19 we hear kubu musical bow played by Petrosi Somalaboma recorded at Mzuzu. Hugh Tracey notes, “The kubo bow is a simple bow held vertically and strummed near the lower end. The main segment of the string being 40 inches long. It has a gourd resonator. The player struck the low segment only, stopping it with the point of his first finger and with his thumb.” The kubu bow is a descendent of the ugubhe bow. On track 20 we hear the 10 note kalimba played by Ganizani Nyirendi and recorded in Kasunga district. On track 22 we hear the gule dance song by Muzize Mwane on karigo one stringed lute, Nkothakota district. Hugh Tracey notes, “The gule dance is one of the dances of the mens nyau secret societies, and it is always performed wearing masks as the identity of the individuals must remain unknown. This is due to the belief that it is the ancestral spirits who have arrived and joined the festivities and are dancing.”

Southern Mozambique 1943 – 63: Music of Chopi, Gitonga, Bonga, Tswa, Tsonga, Sena, Nyungwe and Ndau

Opening track features young girls on gourd flutes (ocarinas) recorded in the Quissoca District. “These ocarinas are made from the hard spherical flute of the mutamba orange tree and have 3 holes, one for blowing and 2 for fingering. Notes can also be easily lipped down in pitch. Small girls from 5 or 6 start to play these home-made 3 note instruments for amusement, usually in duet with one chigowilo, always smaller, thus higher pitched.” On track 3 we hear 13 xylophones led by Shambini, recorded at Quissoco. Mtsitso are introductory movements played by the orchestra alone, without song or dance, before the dancers enter. On track 7 we hear the mzeno movement from the timbila dance, it is considered to be the climax. Hugh Tracey notes, “Komakomu's sparkling playing style is in evidence, playing kudala, single note melody on the high notes, or doubling the song in octaves.” On tracsk 8 to 10 we heard mandowa dance played on mbira recorded at Nova Mambone District. The mandowa acrobatic tumbling dance uses four drums. On track 16 we hear the music of the Tswa people, who live North of the Chopi and play an almost identical xylophone called muhambi. On track 19 we hear the hexatonic mbira performed by Jose Machokole, from Save River Mozambique. This is one of the very few African mbiras with 3 ranks or manuals of keys and a 3 octave range, played with 2 fingers and 2 thumbs…

Forgotten Guitars from Mozambique presents the roots of marrabenta music.

Chopi musicians by Hugh Tracey

Chopi play large orchestras of Timbila orchestras and orchestral dances called Mijodo. A Ngodo is an orchestral dance in 9 to 11 movements. Tracey writes ...

“I have devoted most of my holidays from official duties to visiting those areas where the Chopi are to be found, and taking notes in the hope of learning all I could before making gramophone records.” ... “They speak with one voice and move with one spirit by mystical participation in the compelling music.” … “The orchestral ground is developed by the composer himself and by his fellow musicians as they play. The composition becomes communal with the players of the various pitches of Timbila (treble, alto, tenor, base and double bass) improving their own parts. They all conform to the master pattern set by the composer."

AFRIBEAT @ ILAM: On the 12th July 2013, through invitation from director Diane Thram, the afribeat archive was deposited at ILAM. The afribeat archive on mini disk, digital video and slide is collected from a series of interviews and events in Cape Town and Johannesburg between 1999 and 2003 and travels throughout Africa between 2000 and 2003. This work took place during a brief and magical golden period of South African Jazz. It accounts for an oral history of South African jazz. I am grateful that it can be placed in the field of education whereby it can assist many people to further their own dreams, musical or compassionate. (AFRIBEAT ARCHIVE AFRICA) is situated at ILAM, the international Library of African Music situated in Grahamstown. Our next stop is to digitise all the photography from afribeat (about 400 slides of Africa and SA Jazz specifically for the books Airborne to Africa and Story of SA Jazz and generally for research and licence).

Sakhuluntu (building humanity)

Music is blessed mostly by the support it receives to get instruments to those that require, rehearsal spaces, performances spaces and collaborative learning experiences all the way round.

There is a self-styled music project in Joza, section 9 Grahamstown, eGazini called Sakhuluntu that is taking shape in the Eastern Cape.
Vuyo Booi inherited a single roomed dwelling in Section 9 Joza. He immediately turned it into a cultural centre, saying, “God gave me this home to look after His children.” Today they train thirty kids from Sakhuluntu in traditional dance and music. This music project is fuelled by passion alone and is a clear example of how music opportunity is a great leveller for children: whether the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, music makes us realise we are one.

Sakhuluntu Cultural Group, a music project fuelled by passion alone is a clear example of how music opportunity is a great leveller for children: whether the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, whether the prettiest of the pretty or the ugliest of the ugly. Music makes us realise we are one.

On World Peace Day 2009, I watched at the Sakhuluntu venue in Joza, a full choral performance of a variety of songs including own compositions sung in a terrific harmony of three voices. The drumming was of a high standard and very natural, whilst the dancing was raw and expressive in the style of the traditional African Ngoma. The gumboot dancing was excellent.

“The aim of giving them the opportunity to choreograph their own dance routines, add their own songs and develop their own theatre skills, is to enable them to witness their own inner potential and to experience what can be achieved if one learns to co-operate in a group. These experiences will nurture a sense of hope and ambition within the children. We are out to enable very underprivileged children to dream and to problem solve creatively and with self-confidence.” Sakhuluntu annual report.

Almost everyday the council one roomed house of Vuyo Booi is filled with visitors. I have visited this home on many occasions showing once more that the experience of ‘township dwellers’ is absolutely human. One such visitor to Vuyo’s home was possibly the oldest man in the neighbourhood who wandered across the road on his crutches nearly everyday. Vuyo described him as being “no liki liki.” ‘No liki liki’ means he doesn’t require any ‘nice things,’ or ‘treats.’ When I offered him a cup of tea he said no.

And this is the extraordinary aspect of the township experience that makes me refer to it more as a community. People are connected and things are shared. And this can make for quite a relaxed lifestyle in certain regards. But you need the attitude. For instance Vuyo said to me, “I don’t worry for anything. I don’t worry for money, or for food, or to bath ... I worry for nothing!”

Sakhuluntu utilises a heart centred and soft approach in education. Vuyo Booi inherited a single roomed dwelling in Section 9 Joza. He immediately turned it into a cultural centre, saying, “God gave me this home to look after His children.” They have thirty kids, two big drums and hand- made instruments. They are called Sakhuluntu Cultural Group and this music project fuelled by passion alone is a clear example of how music opportunity is a great leveller for children: whether the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, whether the prettiest of the pretty or the ugliest of the ugly. Music makes us realise we are one. My involvement with Sakhuluntu and founding member Vuyo Booi had begun in 2007. My purpose in 2007 was at ILAM and to conduct the research that has led to the scripting proposal for the 13 part DVD series, 'Traditional instruments of Southern Africa.' When researching the work of Hugh Tracey at ILAM I received a call from a friend, Adam. Speaking in the spirit, he said to me, “check the other side.” I thanked him, turned around and introduced myself to the gentleman standing behind me, Vuyo Booi. I asked him if he could “show me the other side.” He said he could.

Vuyo took me to the other side. At that point in his life, the other side was the semi-township area of Fingo where he lived in a tin room. He explained to me that I would always be welcome to visit him, on the 'other side. The 'other side' is the so called township. I believe it is better called 'community.' The 'other side' is also a pun as there is another side. It is the ancestral realm. In a sense you have to go to the 'other side' to get to the 'other side. This is why you will find many many white men such as Hugh Tracey and Jim Bailey who travelled to Africa from Europe for their healing or like me and others who were actually born here to balance our own ancestral lines. Visiting Sakhuluntu in Gtown JOZA Section 9 was a journey to oneself and a joy to witness others. Living in the township one grows accustomed to a stillness of mind and a natural way unflustered y the external world.

The notion of poverty as a state of mind is acclaimed when the children play in bundles of joy occasionally expressing hunger which can be satisfied with a banana self shared between the dozen of them or a bowl of porridge shared with a spoon. Alcohol entrenches the township dweller with a low sense of self esteem. For the individual to choose to rise above alcohol use, they may reel against a community of users who feel threatened yanothers transformation. Lessons in how to feed a hungry child.Lessons in sharing, the spirit of generosity.Lessons in compassion, tolerance, non judgement.Lessons of the light of a child.The childlike qualities of the blissful existence that turns every day into an eternity.

Coming to noon



Sakhuluntu and the Grahamstown festival, what is Amazing?

In 2009 Sakhuluntu created a centre piece at the annual National Arts Festival. Their collaborative performance was entitled ‘Amazing!' It was a platform for sharing their learning with the street kids or ‘streetlights.' ‘Streetlights' is the term for the street kids. It was termed by a poet from eThekwini called Mduduzi. At the National Arts festival, streetlights travel in from all over, particularly Nelson Mandela District.

The concept of Amazing was the sharing of opportunities and public platforms with these streetlights. The concept began in the communities with the community youths. Youths see no separation. Amazing began in 2009 as improvised street theatre and community development driven by passion alone. Amazing was an integral initiative in integration: bringing the communities to the festival and the taking the festival to the communities. Sakhuluntu youth and the Streetlights collaborated to produce an integrated performance programme. The collaborations and live rehearsals with the street kids and the cultural group begin on day 1 of the festival, and by day 11 a diverse performance programme was prepared and performed. The Sakhuluntu cultural group youth performers under the directorship of Vuyo Booi have been rehearsing for years. Their impact on the township life in Joza has been amazing. And now their impact on the National Arts festival has been Amazing and so their impact on the entire region will be Amazing. Sakhuluntu cultural group has dancers, drummers, actors and performers from four years of age and older. Their performances include traditional dance, gumboot dance, polyrhythmic music and street theatre.

At the 2012 festival Sakhuluntu diversified and expanded their approach to include the Art factory, the Giant Puppets, traditional instruments of Southern Africa festival and carnival. The Art Factory took on the initiative of grooming and coaching the street kids into a united group of well-trained street performers. Festival goers were given wonderful free entertainment as they saw the painted children of Art Factory participating in stylish, animated, humorous and joyous street theatre.

The Giant Puppets provided free entertainment. Standing 2.7M tall they were greatly enjoyed as they walked the public spaces daily bringing great joy and laughter to groups, areas and gatherings within the festival.

A cultural crew called Mzantsi visited for festival to ensure that social upliftment was tuned up to a maximum by conducting recycling workshops at the Sakhuluntu premises in Joza. They taught the art of making and using recycled materials for musical instruments and carnival costumes. Any variety of percussive musical instruments and carnival costumes were created from a collection of bottle tops, empty drums, etc. The Mzantsi crew used bright spray paints (like the decorations for a trance party) to brighten up the musical instruments. The fruit of this work and the energetic rehearsals were displayed at the closing carnival and parades.

eGazini Natural carnival

In 2012 a carnival walked the streets of eGazini uniting people from the town and from the communities, through expression. A carnival is 100% participative. A giant turtlephone was to lead the carnival. The 'turtlephone' is an innovative way of creating a carnival float. Several musicians played this instrument at once creating a percussive melodic orchestra that sounded unique.

Right behind them were Sakhuluntu. Throughout the carnival the Sakhuluntu youth performers from Joza township played a steady yet conversational rhythm. It became like a carpet on which we could all walk parading our unique skills, sharing our passion and purpose with humour.

When the French marching band took to the streets and joined the carnival, the cats were set amongst the pigeons. They brought a sense of purpose and unconquerable spirit married with humour, spontaneity, generosity, friendship and improvisation. There was a moment when marching down High Street, magic melted into the music, the instruments and the people. Marcus Wyatt brought the whole of High Street to life with the jazziest New Orleans styled solo that made the other horn players on the line raise their horns above their heads and dance! Passion makes a carnival.

A carnival is completely integrative. It is participative and onlookers can join the carnival at the marching pace and rhythm, in culture we are together. As we walked the streets together, actors and festival participants were joining the carnival acting out their characters in a flamboyant street parade. This is true soul food. When the French marching band broke into jazz music, they fell at least 22 paces behind the steady march of Sakhuluntu and the giant turtle musical instrument.

Even with a variety of styles of music playing together, and different groups within the carnival going off on their wonderfully expressive tangents, the carnival could not split up. For instance within the large gap between Sakhuluntu youth drummers and the marching band, some incredible performers provided the glue that kept us all together. They are a band of performers known as Hypno-Lunatics! There was an eye, a hunchback, a little prince, his friend and a farmer from the great outback. They all danced, sharing their ideology of 'Water' through their own unique expressions of themselves and their emotions in the most spontaneous expressions where movement and music became one.

The sound of absolute one-ness was born when the beating of their drums latched into synchronicity and matched the pulse of the Sakhuluntu youth performers. There was an extraordinary power that can only be described as the exuberance of beauty recognizing itself. And so we marched together all the way home.


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