Maskanda of Kwa Zulu Natal

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 “umakikeleokwahe,” cutting it in his own way.
Maskanda has become strongly associated with the guitar. The guitar could have been introduced by Portuguese explorers as early as the 1880’s.
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 ukupikaor ukunanzastyle. 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.

Melody (indlela) means a footpath. Music (umculo) means singing. “If you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance.”

The Form of Maskanda

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 unbanned by the white authorities of Durban. Ngoma has 4 distinct yet related aspects, movement, costume, music and song. In the guitar what is represented is the different voices of the people.
IsiZulu is referred to that belonging to the North. Ezansi is music from South and central. The umzansi style is described as having a ‘strong beat’ which refers to the inherent dance beat on which the style is based. Umzansi is isiZulu sasezani (the Zulu style of the South). Isashamani dance was created by Jubelie Dubazane. This dance is played by musicians from Kranskop and Nkandla. There are many different styles played by different people in the various places where they live. People dance, play drums and clap in different ways. The dances performed can be rooted in the district or region where the maskanda comes from. Maskanda is alive to the youth as it has carried change.
The giants of Maskanda festival and the Zulu traditional Dance Competition promotes this music genre. An annual competition crowns a 'bull' of Maskanda, Names such as Mfazonyama, Shiyani Ngobo, Sipho Mcunu, Hashi Mhlope have won this prize. The concertina was very popular in playing polyphonic indigenous music as it is capable of imitating voices in a polyphonic setting. This instrument was inherited from Boere Orkes. The concertina, unlike the guitar, is said to make a man out of its player. The guitar is known for its powers to seduce a young woman’s heart in courting. The guitars Zulu name, isiginga, suggests its percussive sound. Maskanda may also mean a musical group leader. Guitar must be played by those who care little about life, but music.
The word maskanda is used interchangeably to allude to umbhidi (the conductor) as well as to mean a virtuoso instrumentalist who plays traditional music on the Western instruments.
RESEARCH AND INFORMATION: Much information extracted from A Study of the Guitar Styles in Zulu Maskanda Music by NolleneJacquineDavies : With special thanks to "the hymns of Isaiah Shembe, IzihlabeloZamanazaretha," B.N Mthethwa.

Struan Douglas

Struan Douglas is a writer and musician based in South Africa.