the United Colours of Africa
                                                                                                   

Eastern Cape: traditional instruments

centre of the traditional indigenous and ancient music of Southern Africa :

 

 


The traditional music of the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape is nurtured and developed throughout cycles of life from birth, initiation and marriage to death. Over generations, the Xhosa have woven the ancient threads of their culture into a brilliant tapestry of authenticity and beauty. From an unborn child to an infant on the mothers back; from a toddler playing the drum to a youngster dancing with ankle rattles and holding shakers music is everywhere and it is intuitive.

THE MUSICAL BOW

There is an ancient rock painting in the caves of the Maluti mountains of Lesotho depicting a performance with a musical bow. The painting is of a man tapping on the strings of seven hunting bows that are fixed into the ground. Musical bows developed from the Khoisan who soothed their prey with the melody plucked on their hunting bow. The indigenous people were at one with nature and so was their music. The Xhosa were said to have got all their music and clicks from the Bushmen.

The musical bow is an ancient string instrument. It’s found all over the world. In Southern Africa the bow has a tremendous variety of names and variations and is played by all indigenous tribes. There are bows resonated with the mouth called ‘mouth bows’ and bows resonated with a calabash called ‘gourd bows’. Bows are a cornerstone of Xhosa traditional music

The bow is commonly used for divination. 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 (bow).

The uMrhubhe is the Xhosa name for a friction mouth bow. The friction bow consists of a hollow bar or half-tube of bamboo, fitted with a wire string and tuning peg. The string is set in vibration by means of a miniature bow of wood and hair from a cows tail. umrhubhe players employ a very deep throated singing which sounds like the Ngqokola. The larger version is uHadi. uMhadi means a deep pit. Dr. Dave Dargie makes his own uHadi using steel wire from Europe, and locally cut tree branches.

SPLIT TONE SINGING

Ngqoko is the home of a unique tradition of split tone throat singing called “uMngqokolo.” Legend has it that a style of uMngqokolo singing developed when a youngster held a beetle in her mouth and imitated the sound: a continuous deep buzz. This sung simultaneously with floating high pitched melodic overtones create the mystical and very rare sound of split tone singing.

Ethnomusicologist Dave Dargie had the great fortune of discovering the uMngqokolo singing in the Lumko district in 1980. He documented the music and has circulated it internationally through his recordings. This musical style is now a National Heritage. The Ngqoko Xhosa Traditional Music Ensemble, a group of ten to twelve mature female singers, promoted by Dave Dargie and Tsolwana Mpayipeli, have successfully taken this traditional culture into a concert format. The women perform barefoot and have striking white painted faces, and Xhosa beaded costumes and headgear. They perform songs and dances from cultural rituals and combine singing with the playing of traditional instruments, such as the musical bows and friction drum, 'uMasengwane', which is played by rubbing wet rope through the inside of a drum to create a deep and sonorous sound.

MUSIC OF THE BODY

“Mr's Matiso's principle is that Xhosa people like to put salt into their songs. ‘Salt' is added by making the rhythm more exciting through techniques of clap delay and disguising the beat, cross-rhythm patterns, ‘swinging' the rhythm and so on.” Dlamini

The amaMpondo from the wild coast of the Transkei have a variety of dance styles which include, umtyityimbo, ingadla, inkciyo, isijadu, and ukuxhentsa. The latter is as wild as the waves of the ocean. It is built from the rhythm of the human heart beat. The dancer enters a deep meditative state after dancing for hours on end, accompanied by d ums and hand clapping. The dance movements are highly charged and electric, and the drumming is alive with the energy of transformation.

NtombeThongo was born and grew up in Mthambalala village close to Ntafufu river mouth about 25 km from Port St Johns. Thongo became a sangoma (healer) in 1983 at six years of age. The sangoma training includes dream interpretation and traditional plant medicines. His musical career began in 1992 as a guitarist. He has taken his healing to a musical platform. He says, “Seventy percent of the things I sing about come from my dreams. Music and healing go together. The whole thing about my life is uniting people. I am healing all those who listen to my music.”

NtombeThongo has released one album which won the South African Traditional Music Award (SATMA) for best Isixhosa album in 2012 and was nominated for a South African Music Award (SAMA) for best Maskhanda album in 2013. Thongo plays traditional instruments, choreographs, composes and performs with his 8 piece band, Thongo African Band. They perform in a musical style called Transkhanda.

NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

Grahamstown, once the second largest city in South Africa, is an important cultural hub with the National Arts Festival a long standing initiative in showcasing indigenous music of the Eastern Cape.

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) present an annual Eastern Cape Indigenous Music and Dance Ensemble at the National Arts festival. 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 present a visual arts and crafts festival, a multilingual WordFest and the Dakawa jazz and community festival.

Ngqoko village overlooking Lady Frere is about 50km from Queenstown, a pulsing heart and motherland of Eastern Cape music. It is said that a San king once settled in Ngqoko and intermingled his tribes with those of the Xhosa. They became the Xhosa abaThembu. SA’s late former President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, hailed from this clan.

This region has sheep and stones, hills and concrete round huts with tin roofs. On the flatlands of this area are council buit one bedroomed township houses, resembling a labour camp to service Queenstown. Up on the hill one of the country's most established traditional music performance groups lives.

The lady Frere singers are a group of 10 elderly women. The music is nurtured throughout cycles and cycles of life and death, throughout generations of families and homesteads, the women of the Xhosa have woven the ancient threads of their culture into a remarkable tapestry of authemticity and beauty.

Level Site
Ancestral memory
Bushmen and Xhosa
Intermingled between two peaks
On the Ngqoko river

One of the most unique forms of singing in Southern Africs is 'Split Tone singing.' Ngqoko is the home of a unique tradition of split tone throat singing called “uMngqokolo.” Legend has it that a style of uMngqokolo singing developed when a youngster held a beetle in her mouth and imitated the sound: a continuous deep buzz. This sung simultaneously with floating high pitched melodic overtones produce the very mystical and rare sound of split tone singing.

Ethnomusicologist Dave Dargie discovered uMngqokolo singing in the Lumko district in 1980 and documented the music and circulated it internationally through his recordings . This musical style is now recognised as part of SA's national Heritage. The Ngqoko Xhosa Traditional Music Ensemble, a group of ten to twelve mature female singers, promoted by Dave Dargie and Tsolwana Mpayipeli, have successfully taken this traditional culture into a concert format. The women perform barefoot and have striking white painted faces, Xhosa beaded costumes and headgear. They perform songs and dances from cultural rituals and combine singing with the playing of traditional instruments, such as the musical bows and friction drum, 'uMasengwane', which is played by rubbing wet rope through the inside of a drum to create a deep and sonorous sound.

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

THE SPIRIT OF THE DRUM
THE MIRROR
OF WATER
YOUR INTENTION IS MANIFEST

 

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