Musical Bow Traditions of Southern Africa

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‘Apendejar’ (for berimbau sextet). 

Composed by Gregory Beyer and Alexis Lamb, one of two closing pieces from ‘Meia Meia’, a song cycle for variable berimbau ensemble, performed by Projeto Arcomusical:

Gregory Beyer (Director – Projeto Arcomusical)

Alex Fraga

Jose Henrique Soares

Daniela Oliviera

Natalia Mitre

Rafael Matos

‘Ngiyajabula’ (I am happy) by Bavikile Ngema (umakhweyana)

A signature pattern cycle by Mama Bavikile Ngema on umakhweyana, which she plays as a greeting in honour of the doyenne of the Xhosa umrhubhe mouthbow, Mama ‘Madosini’ Mpahleni. Her rendition includes a recital of izibongo, an oral-gestural genre of traditional performance that is commonly associated with the popular Zulu maskandi style of music.  

‘Mfana Ndini!’ (Boy that you are!) by Madosini Mpahleni, here displaying her refined artistry as an unsurpassed virtuoso on the Xhosa umrhubhe friction mouthbow. 

‘Uzoxel’ Int’ Omke Ngayo’ by Mantombi Matotiyana

Among diverse musical bow cultures of Southern Africa,  Xhosa bow music is unique in its common usage of unusual metrical pulse divisions. In this rendition of one of her signature repertoires, on which she accompanies herself on uhadi, Matotiyana reveals the idiom’s capacity to narrate various aspects of subjective experience by appending or leaving out selected texts  -according to contextual needs of a performance. 

‘Holilo!’ by The Ngqoko Cultural Group

An umngqungqo song sung and danced only by women during ijaka ceremony of Xhosa girls’ initiation ritual. Rythmically based on a metrical pulse of 11/8, the song is sung in ukutshotsha or umngqokolo  gruff-voice style, as a group self-accompaniment to an intricate dance stepping movement. The dance step pattern is accented on beats 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10 of the cycle, during which the dancing/singing women each hold up a stick in the right hand and occasionally engage in humorous imitations of Xhosa boys’ stick-fighting game.  

Umtshingo by Dizu Plaatjies

Variously known as umtshingo or igekle among the Nguni in South Africa and eSwatini, the pan-flute is one of the most widespread indigenous wind instruments of the Bantu in southern Africa. Originally made of reed or other hollow plant material, nowadays umtshingo is usually fashioned out of industrial PVC water pipe. On this track Dizu Plaatjies, the iconic Mpondo multi-instrumentalist and professor of African music at the South African College of Music, plays an improvisation piece.  

 ‘Nontwayiyo’ – an uhadi bow song by Madosini Mpahleni.

The words of the song are admonishing Nontwayiyo, the ‘girl who has fallen pregnant’. Traditionally regarded as taboo among the Xhosa, teenage pregnancy resulted in denigration and shunning by peers.

‘Awunamfati Ndoda’ (Man Without Woman)

Played on the Ndau-Shangana kankubwe mouthbow by Maneto Tefula (mouthbow) and Rafael Matusse (masala rattle percussion and vocal). The lyrics of the song cast aspersions on  batchelorhood, and the man who does all the chores himself. He cooks a big pot of food not for his wife and children, but for his dogs and cats.