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Eastern Cape: centre of he traditional indigenous and ancient music of Southern Africa : Research conducted at the home of Hugh Tracey's archive, International Library of African Music ILAM and featuring the traditional instruments


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.

 

Madosini Manqina Latozi picture Lianne Cox

ABOUT MADOSINI : Madosini Manqina Latozi from the Transkei is the most famous performer of Xhosa musical bow today. She never attended school. She was influenced by her mother who was also an expert in the playing and making of traditional instruments. “Without nature there is no life and without life there is no music. These are the foundation stones for humanity,” said Madosini.

In one of her songs Utando Luphelile 'My son,' she sings. “Love has disappeared nowadays since money became the living thing. Modernism has taken us by surprise. Go anywhere in the world and you will find that people are hopeless, there is no self-reliance. People would just go past you without even saying hello. What is life then ? There is total destruction of mother nature through the lack of communication, in short no love.”

 

In Sazi Dlamini's masters thesis he writes, “Bow music was an integral part of female contemplation on the poetics of emotional relationships between and among individuals, society and state.”

MaDosini said in the interview with Sazi Dlamini : The origin of the bow came “Through God's ( Thixo ) revelation … since God reveals to his people what should make them happy. God then revealed umrhubhe to his ancient people who had no things to make them happy … He invented umrhubhe .”

MaDosini said in an interview in the same paper: “Umrhubhe is a girls' instrument. AmaXhosa girls then grew up making it sound, they did not attend school, their school was this thing. School was there, but it was something that was looked down upon. The thing that was focused on and elevated was umrhubhe .”

“The bow does not agree to be followed by many people since it has a quiet voice. It can go together with other musical instruments, it does go well together with segankuri [Sotho friction-bow]. It goes very well together with segankuri . I use amanqashela ankle rattles when I am performing on stage. I put them on my ankles.” MaDosini

Madosini (an amaqaba , (‘red' people) never learnt to read, write and speak in English. However, as she informed the interviewer in isiXhosa, pointing to the umrhubhe bow in her hands, … “I went to this school. When I was young, children who went to school to learn English were ridiculed. This [pointing to bow], taught me about life. This was our way of entertainment. It also inculcated good manners in a person. We were nurturing graceful manners. Because you are told with direct reference to it and you are told: ‘This is how you should hold umrhubhe bow when you meet an older person … Molo Tata, Molo Mama' [Hello Father, Hello Mother]. Not to ignore – when your mother and father are walking by.”

“I make this umrhubhe myself. This wood I cut myself. And this is lujiko (coil) of umliza (ankle bangle). Now we buy this wire. We used to wear it on our feet. So now you buy it and burn it over a fire to stretch /straighten it to be like this. Its name while it is still [coiled] is known as umliza . After burning it is called lijiko . Once you have got this ijiko and the stick you call it umrhubhe .”

 

and the Nqoko singers picture ILAM

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.

 

Ntombethongo pictures Noema Gonzalez

 

Sakhuluntu performers picture ILAM and traditional performers picture SD

 


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