“It’s a way of life, part of the African culture and identity…”
While the earliest origin of music is widely debated amongst scholars and archaeologists, modern music as we know and love it, has deep African roots. In history, humans have used music to celebrate. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the widely practiced, “Happy Birthday.” Music has also been an important part of mourning. Whether mourning for a moment, a person, a place, or thing, music is commonly used to pay tribute or respects in these situations. Music is also widely used as a form of therapy. A beautiful melody can ease the soul, elevate your spirits, pump you up, and even relax you. In South Africa, many of the native cultures practice polygamy—when a man or woman have multiple spouses. The Tswana and Zulu cultures practice polygyny specifically, in which men may have multiple wives. For these women, coexisting together can be challenging. We all know what it’s like to experience jealousy, anger, sadness and conflict with our partners and this is only escalated when partners have additional wives. To cope with their stresses, it’s not uncommon for these women to sing together. The act of singing together allows the group of wives to support each other and deal with conflict in a healthy way. In 2010, Alanah studied the Zulu music and culture at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and had the chance to watch the Vivani Bafazi women, a rural community of wives, perform some of these songs. Here’s a little snippet of those performances.
Just as music can be a powerful healing tool, it can also be used to travel to another time in our lives. Time travel is a phenomenon we see on TV and in movies. It usually involves some type of science-fiction plot in which super human futuristic technology is used to blast you through the universe. Music, while not exactly super human, also allows us to travel through time too. A specific few notes can take us from sitting on the bus on our way to work, to a moment in time that’s been carved into the very fabric of who we are. We all have a song like this. Maybe it’s an entire CD worth of songs that no matter how many times we hear played, can’t be overdone, because every beat is intertwined with a memory. What’s that song for you? We left Botshabelo with about four days worth of music, but one song in particular that has us travelling back there is Hamba Juba, by DJ Ace SA featuring Juizee. In Zulu, hamba juba translates to “Be free, my dove.” Have a listen here, it will have you on your feet moving:
One of the most incredible things about travelling to Africa is that no matter where you are, music has a unique way of bringing people together. When we arrived the first day at Botshabelo, we were invited to join in a dance class with some of the older kids. Now we weren’t able to capture any photos since we were busy making friends and shaking our behinds for a solid hour. However, we can say this. We spent over an hour dancing with people we’d never met before. At first it was weird; we had never met these people and all of a sudden we were holding hands and dancing together. Despite the minor discomfort, the entire experience was like an art installation. We were complete strangers from half way around the world creating beautiful moments to a backdrop of laughter and music. We left that class sweaty and jet lagged, but best of all, we left that class with a sense of community. Welcome to Botshabelo!
For some people, and I know I’ve had this experience, music is also very spiritual. While we all have our own taste in groove and genre, music encourages mindfulness and mindfulness ultimately encourages us to connect with the mind, body and spirit. In the first blog post, we mentioned how much some of the children loved to sing and dance on camera. From the moment we arrived until the moment we boarded the Iveco to leave, this was constant. They insisted on showing us their moves, so we compiled some of their moves for you to see. Some of these kids singing and dancing weren’t exactly strong communicators. Many of the children have stories unimaginable to the average person therefore talking isn’t really the way they communicate. Give them music, give them singing, give them dancing and they’re transformed. You’ll notice that the expression of movement and song delivers a sense of pride and joy in their beautiful little souls. We’ll also say that it did the same for us on the other side of the lens.
Music, song, dance, it’s all relative and interconnected. It’s a part of the Africa culture and identity. It’s a part of Botshabelo. Here’s a clip of the Botshabelo children, led by their community choir, singing us goodbye.