Born in Kwa Zulu Natal and an anti-apartheid struggle member of the ANC. He went into exile in Swaziland, Tanzania and Canada. He made the radio documentary, ‘Umzabalazo, the songs of struggle,’ which was later transferred to ‘Amandla: A revolution in four part harmony,’ a successful documentary ﬁlm, in which he acted as narrator. In 1994 Ntuli as a returning exile, Ntuli began to work closely with culture. He created ‘Dark City Jive’ at the Tandoor venue in Yeoville was co- founder of the Politburo digital and live music sessions and founder of House of Nsako music venue in Brixton. He is co-founder of Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton.
Most activities, chores and responsibilities in our old, traditional and rural settings were carried out with the accompaniment of song, humming, measured foot stomping or hand clapping. Whether domestic, out in the veld looking after livestock, planting and hoeing weeds, or harvesting as a community, the spirit of working together towards any achievement was woven together through harmonic singing. Forced by colonialism to leave traditional life and migrate to the mines and emerging cities, those songs were transformed, as the languages and styles mixed, into new expressions. In any mine, the various processes were executed by singing labourers. Same with railway and road construction. The synchronicity, the bind beyond various cultures from Lesotho, Malawi, Zimbabwe and S.A., were expressed in song.
Music and song became the unfettered and free art form, accompanied by dance at times, to forge the necessary and new harmonies, the new urban identities and the new Africans of the city.
Music and the struggle for Freedom
Because of the exploitation and harsh conditions of work and life in the mines, because of police harassment for all types of permits, because of the arrests and prison experiences, the resistance and desire for social and political changes led to strikes, fights with the police and political mobilisation. In the Johannesburg context, the 1922 miner’s strike, the 1930s disturbances of the Industrial Commercial Union, the 1940s protest against the imposition of Apartheid in 1948, the ANC-led Defiance Campaigns of the 1950s, the 1960s Pan Africanist Congress uprisings in Langa, Cape Town and Sharpeville. The cohesion, the courage, and the daring spirit of the young males and females protesting their undesirable existences, were cemented by chants, songs, hymns and more music. Again, music became the reliable conveyor belt for people’s emotions. Music created memories in the chapters of the freedom struggle. Music galvanised Africans, Coloureds, Indians and progressive Whites never to retreat in the face of saracens, dogs and police rifles.
In the popular urban music forms like marabi, kwela, mgqashiyo, African Jazz, a-capella harmonies, choral choirs, music was an excellent terrain of escape, of camouflage to maintain the spirit of freedom, without overtly protesting. Music applied poetic words, hidden metaphors and instrumentation to keep the light of Freedom alive.
1. When Hugh Masekela got to New York, Miles Davis said to him – don’t play our style of music – play your style of music. In other words; don’t imitate us, be authentically yourself. How would you describe your own authentic musical expression?
2. Culture and music have played an important role in freedom through the likes of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri, Johnny Clegg and Lucky Dube. These artists took South African music to the world. How would you create a musical expression that is able to cross borders?
3. Where in the town, village or city where you live, do you go to experience culture, music and freedom. Share with us what happens there?
4. Research your favourite South African exiled musician and name one thing about their journey that resonates with you?
The good old days have only just begun. Hugh Masekela
There have been significant All Africa cultural festivals, in Dakar, Senegal in 1966 and with FESTAC in Lagos, Nigeria 1977. These festivals created the impetus for this moment. However not everybody is convinced an African Renaissance is possible. Some see this quest as a romantic, escapist desire by cultural and intellectual leaders. They believe it will always be elusive and not attainable.
The concept of African people and nations overcoming challenges confronting the continent and achieving cultural, scientific, and economic renewal is surely both desirable and attainable?
Millions of African people still live in abject poverty, with the gems in their culture, traditions and festivals eclipsed in earning potential by Western imports. Radio, television and print media imitate and promote lifestyles of the Western world. And political freedoms and true democracies are still rare to find. S.A. remains one of the most divided societies in terms of the haves and the have-nots. Facilities like running water, sanitation, health care and education are yet to reach each and every African family in the country.
South African President Thabo Mbeki during his term of office, also dabbled in spreading the gospel of the African Renaissance. But, is it merely a post-apartheid intellectual agenda that still has a long way to go?
Music and Freedom
Music is a wake up call for solidarity. Music helps us remember what a free past looked like. Music is a tool for remembering the promises of self-rule in Africa. Through music we can reach out and connect to role model nations in the world, and we can defeat the helplessness brought in by fear. Music in its various forms, from popular music to struggle and religious music, can raise awareness and alert people that civil action might be necessary to bring about change.
But, alas, the musicians themselves, seeking quick monies, the platforms like radio and television owned by the hostile government and private forces and the deviation of continuing to imitate and mimic international stars, renders music ineffective at times. But the potential of music being a catalyst for social and political change is still there, but it must be worked hard to be successful.
1. A cultural activist and multi-media artist gives back to their community. What is your community, what has it given to you and how do you want to give back to it?
2. Sifiso Ntuli’s favourite musician in exile was Hugh Masekela. In your opinion, what has been Hugh’s cultural and musical impact?
3. South Africa has not yet realised its promised freedom? In your opinion, what would a musical industry look like that is free?
4. South African music from exile drew from many freedom songs. Can you find one song that resonates with youand play it on your instrument?