United Colours of Africa

As a born and bred Durbanite (from Umhlanga Rocks) I have a great passion for the culture, the colour, the vibrance and humanity specific to my home-town and I would love to share it with visitors :

Contact me on struan at afribeat.com for tailor made cultural tours in Durban eThekwini KwaZulu Natal and "come and have a ball in Durban!"

KwaZulu Natal 

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Since Vasco Da Gama's arrival in 1497, development has fought a duel with nature. This land was once a heaven on earth, teeming with an abundance of creatures roaming freely in jungles, mangroves, natural gardens and large lush forests.

One of nature's phenomenon on this coast of the Indian Ocean is the sardine run, a seasonal migration of millions upon millions of newly spawned sardines from the cool Agulhas North down the East Coast to the warmer waters. They make their way to Mozambique where the survivors will breed in the warm waters. In ancient times the Bushmen people would do a similar migration, by foot, from the Cape, along the coast as far as Mozambique. They did it because they were NOMAD's which means they do not go mad.

The Bushmen were the first people of Southern Africa and lived totally within the bounds of nature. The Zulu came south from Central Africa and set up the vernacular architecture of the day, mud and thatch homes. They were joined by the Colonial English who built in art deco et al and the Indian people with their colourful spirituality, temples and markets. Durban is a melting pot of the multiple perspectives of different people and ideas. For example, in India cows are sacred, in Africa cows are sacrificed and in Europe cows are slaughtered and in Durban everything goes. Durban has a surname, eThekwini. The name is derived from the Zulu definition to mean testicle (in the description of the shape of the harbour).

Durban is situated on the spinal column and a profound acupunctural point on the body of Mother Earth. The centre of Durban (the City Hall statues) is situated at an important sacred geometric point on Mother Earth, exactly on the 31 degree longitude lay line. This line follows an extraordinary path across the continent and the globe, passing through a number of natural and ‘manmade' wonders of the continent, such as Adams Calendar (outside Nelspruit), the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, the White Lions of Timbavati, the Great Rift Valley and the Pyramids of Giza which is the geodesic centre of the earth. The Nilotic 31 degrees East Meridian is a sacred line that runs from North to South and has very important links to our place in the cosmos.

Alchemy, change, transformation and healing are all aspects of the people of Durban and their visitors. In the mythological origins of the Zulu people, ‘Indaba My Children' Credo Mutwa tells the story of the first mother of the Zulu People, Princess Marimba. She loved to turn bad into good and as a result invented a plethora of musical instruments and lifestyle utilities that are still in use today. Turning bad into good was also a trait of the Prophet, Isaiah Shembe. When faced with the forced employment of many of his female followers as domestic servants he encouraged them to make beads and straw crafts. He created a market for them on the beachfront which exists to this day.

There was a band in Durban around the time of 1990, called Urban Creep. Of Durban they sang: “sea level, caught between the angels and the devil, you come up for air and they push you back down.” Chris Letcher and Brendan Jury like other great musicians such as Kevin Volans and Allen Kwela left Durban to follow their dreams! This sadly would be come to be regarded as an economic migration. Durban had a well known band in the 1960's, known as the Flames. Their two albums ‘Soul Fire' and ‘Burning Soul' were hits which lead some of the musicians to find international acclaim. Steve Fataar, a founding member, has stayed in Durban throughout. He once said that the secret to their success was: playing a venue a regular day every week without fail.

In Durban, at sea level in the presence of the warm Indian Ocean one is given the opportunity to take an authentic step towards ‘knowing ourselves.' Mahatma Gandhi arrived here as an esteemed young lawyer. He left a sustainable spiritualist.

Mahatma Gandhi spent twenty years in South Africa, eleven of which was in KZN. This has been known as his apprenticeship to becoming a ‘Mahatma' or ‘Great Soul.' Satyagraha (meaning truth and firmness in sanskrit) is the philosophy of non-violent resistance. The Satyagraha movement was born on 11/09/1906 in the Empire Theatre Johannesburg were Gandhi chaired a meeting of more than 3000 people. This meeting produced the fourth revolution where Indians resolved to go to prison rather than submit to the ordinance. “Thus came into being the moral equivalent of war,” Gandhi said. In 1910 he founded Tolstoy farm near Durban , a co-operative colony for Indians. In 1914 the government of SA made important concessions to Gandhi's demands and he returned to India . A salt march walks the streets annually to this day in his honour and as a symbol of the great change in life he experienced in this very location.

Nelson Mandela came to KZN as a leader taking up arms against injustice. When he left he was prepared for peaceful protest and the statesman qualities of compassion and forgiveness he later displayed. Durban has offered me much healing and change. Under every light bulb there is probably a story of healing and personal transformation.

Throughout time traditional African people have traveled to these shores to pray and bathe in the rivers and ocean. Within these waters, people are re-birthed in the presence of God or uNkulunkulu. uNkulunkulu is translated to mean ‘that which is greater than greatness itself' illustrating a metaphysical comprehension of God as the ‘Source Field', or infinite and eternal consciousness, that is ALL.

One of the great assistances in the path to becoming yourself unique to this region is the people of Kwa Zulu Natal. The philosophy of being of Kwa Zulu Natal is often described as ubuntu which is translated to mean ‘people depend on other people to exist as people.' In other words we are ONE on the body of uNkulunkulu

“Indian Ocean – washing machine of the soul.” Adam Knight

In Durban people have the opportunity to heal. There is a strong network of world class facilities to accommodate this healing. Alternative medicine is very well represented here with traditional healers, nyanga's (herbalists) and sangoma's (spiritual healers) outnumbering allopathic healers ten to one.

The direct translation of sangoma is ‘person of the drum.' Music and healing is synonymous. Ngoma is also the practice of participative community performance of drumming accompanied by dance. This is an unlimited musical format and every region of KZN has a unique ngoma. A person is always a participant in ngoma, whether dancing, playing, clapping or foot stamping. It is an organic music, built on the relationship of rhythm and breath. And it heals, illustrating how wholeness is the essence of healing.

Durban is a healing destination. We experienced the early signs of this at the 2010 World Cup when people from all over the world visited both the city and the country over an intense sporting period of one month. One such visitor was Diane Cooper, author of the book ‘Keys to the Universe.' She wrote poetically of how our region of Southern Africa was situated in the solar plexus chakra of planet earth in the fifth dimension. The result of this metaphysics is that Southern Africa will play a significant role in transmuting fear and bringing forward ancient wisdom.

She said, “Your country will be a place of wisdom, integrity and abundance and will be communicating this to the whole world. It is time to recognize and honour yourselves, knowing that there is no separation for we are all one.”

A great example of humanities one-ness is the ukusina sacred dance composed by Isaiah Shembe. In this music, warriors play huge drums, steady, steadfast and sure; they beat out the rhythm of human hearts, entraining one to the all. Large spaces claim their silence between these powerful drum beats. Giant steel horns (invented by Isaiah and called vuvuzela today) are played by vast orchestras of young men in perfect unison. They play a single note chant.

The women dance according to their era. The maidens dance together moving poetically with shield in one hand. The widows dance together matching the maidens' playful moves with a subtle ingenuity. The simple manipulation of an umbrella into opening and closing becomes an expression of pure grace and joy. In a harmonic people everybody has their place and purpose and sacred dance reaffirms that.

The sacred dance is a micro-cosm of the macro-cosm. As planets and universes move in and amongst each other in a ‘music of the spheres,' so people's and communities have the opportunity to create a harmonic interaction; and when we are in perfect health the cells and organs within our bodies dance together harmoniously.

“To be nobody-but-myself, in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else … means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting” E.E Cummings

My pilgrimage to and from Durban eThekwini, land of my birth, land that I love, has been a lifetime which has lead me to the realisation that this destination is extraordinary for many reasons, most notably at a soul level, where i am challenged, i am humbled, i am healed. Here is a growing perspective from the melting pot of Durban.

The sovereignty of all beings and the empathy and understanding of all narratives is indeed crucial. We can only celebrate all the many narratives that make up the diverse ingredients of the wonderful soup of experience that is the universe. And Durban will not be left out. It is as if back in Cape Town, looking at the night lights of a great city from the villa of the mountains or out at the stars of the night sky. Each shining light is a story waiting to be told.

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.

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.

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.”

Shembe Recordings and Media :

Drum Magazine 1999063001: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 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.”

© 2018 African music, writing, philosophy and multi-media creations Struan Douglas afribeat.com

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