South African Music - Aspects of African Life


In the world of African music, numerous uniquely distinguished sounds let music symbolize many aspects of African life. Generally speaking, Westerners have perceived African music as a primitive sound with wild

and unorganized beats, but this is a sad misconception. As one can observe from black South-African culture, music has developed into a symbol of the people’s suffering due to white oppression in South Africa; one of the only ways its people could express defiance of their worsening living conditions in their country was through complicated beats and chants in a mellow tone chorus. While their music demonstrates the hope and defiance of the poor social situation in South Africa, the whites still maintain control of the mainstream African music in radio stations. African music business mainly records foreign hits with a more pop sound in the African language; thus, it imposes western views on Africans. The film expresses this through the performance of Malombo. The group incorporates rhythms of the street into their music to create an up-tempo and lively sound. They perform with two drums being played at different tempos; one drum plays a four-beat tempo while the other alternates from fast to slow tempos. Additionally, the guitar plays melodically as a backup to the drums and the long, low-pitched vocals of the chorus. Zulu music has an array of music styles that all incorporate their living situation in South Africa. All of the music presented of the Zulu culture in this video has very important ties within their current living situation. Black South African groups produce music that is meaningful to their everyday lives, dealing with their living conditions with different types of music, and have a constant theme of struggle.

The Zulu culture in South Africa produces a type of complicated music that demonstrates correlation to everyday life. The film provides the personal experience of a musician by the name of Zipo from the Zulu tribe and the hardships he faces as a musician in South Africa. Zipo produces music that entails his rejection of the system empowered by whites, as he works as a gardener for whites but is not allowed to remain in the whites’ area without his boss’ written consent. His song “Don’t Run from the Gun” is a slow and melodic with soft guitar strums; he sings in a low tone and holds out notes, expressing his anguish while also invoking a feeling of hope. Furthermore, the guitar solos with a soft sound emphasize the emotion of Zipo’s pain because of the song’s melodic range and monophony. In addition, South African music unifies blacks and whites. For example, Zito and Jonathan’s joint music performance had to be sone privately because it is not socially accepted. Jonathan produces a steady tempo with the Kora, while Zipo plays the guitar in the backdrop and sings in long high-pitched notes at high volumes for long durations of time. The melody produced is repetitive, but the singing provides the variation in this unique sound. Thus, Zipo still practices his Zulu music in a white controlled music business.

Black South Africans deal with their living conditions with the production of different types of music. Take, for example, the protest of some of the Zulu South-African tribe, their war songs have developed over time some anti-war resentment. In the war marching song, “March Against Enemy”, a musical environment full of symbolic dancing and chanting is heard; many men assemble to perform the warlike dance as if directed at the whites. The base drum is played on a two-beat repetition and a high-pitched whistle sound simultaneously being played. Soon, the chants in the song are spoken in the serious manner of militaristic fashion. The South-African tribes have incorporated in their chants their disgust with the racism that occurs to them, a burden they must live with in their everyday lives. The segregation of the blacks makes it hard for them to travel to their jobs considering the fact that 1/2 of the blacks live in black only townships. This aggression on the streets allows street performers to channel their anger and frustration in the music; the street performances are very special since every Sunday black South Africans gather to sing, meanwhile conveying frustration directed at whites. Moreover, some of the South Africans choose deal with the social pressures of the whites through humor and laughter in their music. Many blacks are paid very low wages in townships and are forced to migrate to look for jobs. Accordingly, some unnamed male groups in a competition sing about getting up to do the same lousy job everyday and other troubles they have in a jokingly manner. Humor in the music is used as a tool to help them cope with their daily struggles. Zulu tribes produce different music that varies in rhythm depending on what feeling they want to produce as a result of their defiance to their current situation.

Although the Zulu culture developed many types of music, the theme of the black’s struggle in South African society in music remained the same. Most of the songs usually consisted of complicated melodic motions with polyrhythm. Though some of the sounds were distorted by censorship, the feeling of hope of better living conditions remains the same. Likewise, we observe this when the groups come together to compete against each other. The Black Mambazo create an intriguing sound with their humming chords in harmony with variation, vocals with a lead singer, and the message of god taking away their sins. Also, the group’s consistent chanting and stomping of feet breaks up the normal flow of the song. Throughout the competition we repeatedly observe varying compositional Zulu music being produced by Zulu tribes, but being judged by an ignorant white male in order to be neutral. The winning group get paid with the symbol of wealth, which is a goat and closes the competition with a call and response lullaby. As the competition ends, it is easy to understand that the music brings them together because they all are going through the same struggle.

African music from the Zulu tribe is unique because the music portrays their feelings they have towards the horrible conditions they have to endure in their society. Black South Africans have made music part of their everyday lives and it is important we understand the meaning of the music. As observed, the polyrhythm, vocals, harmonization and many other things like dancing show a feeling of joyous humor or frustration in their sounds. If we could understand the message their music gives, we as humans can make a change in the racism of this world. The major misconception of westerners is that African music is primitive, but we have seen otherwise in the music produced by the Zulu tribe.

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