Country Lion of Love uses roots reggae, rhyme and dub to portray the contrasts between the picturesque, tranquil and blissful village of fruitfulness and the erosion of satanic forces in the rest of the land. The song uses country music melodies as an intermezzo before it calls upon the spirit of the LION OF JUDAH to conquer the forces of darkness. It goes further to summon the immortal SOULVOICE of Saint BOB MARLEY to let ONE LOVE triumph over schisms. This is the cry of the children of Africa-Dzonga against the nightmare of the RAINBOW NATION rotting into a Brain-Blow Nation. This is Nkosi Sikelela ’Afrika in reggae tones.
What else can you expect from Zuid Afrika – the world in one country? Ningizimu Afrika has a proclivity for expressing its joys and sorrows in the language of fusion and transfusion. Afrika Borwa itself is a mixed-fruit – a mengelmoes, if you like! Indeed, at the heart of making music, literature, theatre, film and art is the idea of summoning the highest spirit or the most creative energy, power and light within human beings to pull and bring together different elements – words, colours, images, sounds, beats, notes and harmonies.
And no nation in the world knows, understands and expresess the idea of interconnectivity and fusion as the foundation of life: art, music and dance like the beloved Mzansi Afrika.
The notion and practice of mixing, blending, fusing or pulling things together permeates the language and traditions of making music, dance, art (and life) and of partying and jolly making in Afurika Tshipemb
Boeremusiek, a South African light, instrumental dance music now regarded as Afrikaans folk music, evolved out of popular European dances that were introduced to South Africa by the military bands of the British Empire; which acquired a South African flavour and character. Though traditionally centred around the concertina, Boeremusiek may constitute a blend or fusion of a variety of instruments such as piano, accordions, button harmonicas, the guitar and a cello or bass guitar. The turbulent era of the 1980s saw Afrikaner musicians adding their voices on the sounding board of mzabalazo with Voelvry musiek as much as some Afrikaner could not let the mbaqanga train leave him behind and entered the fray with Boereqanga.
The 1950s saw the emergence of Marabi – a keyboard style of Black pop, frequently using cheap pedal organs; and aesthetically linked to American jazz, ragtime and the blues. From Marabi evolved Kwela, a music form centred on the pennywhistle with a distinct, skiffle-like beat with a jazzy swagger. Marabi and Kwela gave birth to Mbaqanga, which took its name from everyday cornmeal porridge. This was an allusion to the genre as the staple diet or musical daily bread of the plebeian, metropolitan jazz afficianados who suffered the double jeopardy of lack of sustainable life in the rural area and the alienation and brutality of life in the city.
Mbaqanga was the blending of city beats and rural aesthetic rhythms; a way of simultaneously retaining rural roots and making life in the city. The vocal version of mbaqanga became known as smanjemanje (the modern way) or mqashiyo. In the same way that urbanized Blacks took to Marabi\Kwela and Mbaqanga to express the joys and sorrows of an urban subsistence and existence and the nostalgia about rural life in the 50s, the immigrant workers in the hostels developed Maskandi (a corruption of the Afrikaans word, Musikant) in the 1960s.
Maskandi came to be known as Zulu Blues because of its thematic concerns, namely narrative of life experiences, daily joys and sorrows and observations of social reality. The instruments typically involved in Maskandi are the acoustic guitar (isginci), concertina, keyboards (synth), bass guitar, drums and backing vocalists, violin and mouth organs and jaw harps. While male Maskandi artists conventionally play the guitar, concertina or violin, female Maskandi artists usually play mouth organs and jaw harps.
South African synth disco of the 1980s, known as Bubble-gum music, was a riposte to the Disco and house music which came out of the Black ghettos of Chicago. It was also inspired by the notion of “Do It Yourself” (DIY) which emerged in the punk movement. The DIY concept was spurred by the fact that it was now possible to make music with a minimal set up of keyboards, drum machines and samplers, without having to rent expensive studios. The 1990s – the era of both globalisation and the transition from apartheid to democracy, gave birth to Kwaito. This grandchild of Marabi got her name from “Kwaai”, – literally meaning angry in Afrikaans but having the positive meaning of Cool or Hot in isqamtho – and “makwaitos” (gangsters). Simply put, Kwaai tunes rooted in township experience.
Though it has the tag of a music evolved and centred around township experiences, Kwaito has produced artists with cross-over inclinations (Mandoza), white artists (Lekgowa) and multi-racial collaborations (Mandoza and Danny K). A variant of house music, with a similarity to Hip-Hop with its melodic, percussive loop samples, deep bass lines and vocals, Kwaito distinguishes itself with lyrics that are sung, rapped and shouted. In the early 2010s, Kwaito techno gave birth to the electronic dance music, Gqom (a hitting drum); and 2018 saw the birth of Amapiano – a fusion of deep house and Gqom, with a distinct jazzy, soulful sound of the piano.
Some of the early Kwaito groups such as Bongo Maffin incorporated ragga and dancehall vibes in their repertoire as much as they did cover versions of South African classics, including hits by the likes of Miriam Makeba. The imprint of reggae in South Africa goes as far as the 1970s and 1980s with the white band Kariba releasing cover versions of international reggae hits, the release of Kori Moraba’s Sotho Reggae (1977), Steve Kekana’s Sound of Africa (1981) and the Dread Warriors self-titled album (1983).
The recording of reggae songs by these artists and the emergence of South African reggae artists like Carlos Djedje, Colbert Mkhwebu, Lucky Dube, Jambo and Oyaba were influenced by Jamaican originators like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh who respectively performed in neighbouring Zimbabwe (1980) and Swaziland (1983) and Jimmy Cliff who performed to a multiracial audience at Orlando stadium in 1980.
Reggae became so ingrained in local pop music that it received a mention in the lyrics of non-reggae singers such as Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens (I’m in love with a Rasta man), and Benjamin Ball (Flash a Flashlight).
The influence of Reggae is not restricted to music. Several South African poets draw on reggae and dub, thanks to the inspiration from the dub or Rastafari poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka and Benjamin Zephaniah – all of whom have a great following in South Africa and have also performed in the country. Clearly, South African music has always had the element of fusing different musical traditions and instruments. In a way, the ethos of multiculturalism, pluralism and unity in diversity that are articulated in the dominant political discourse and symbolism in South Africa finds resonance in the poetics and aesthetics of fusion or mash-up in both the official symbols and the music of South Africa.
The national anthem of South Africa is a blending (mash-up) of two songs, Die Stem (the anthem of apartheid South Africa), and Nkosi Sikelela (a hymn that achieved the status of a national anthem within the liberation movement in South(ern) Africa. The first part – in Sesotho and isiXhosa – is an appeal to the Higher Being to elevate, bless, protect and preserve Africa and hearken to the cries and prayers of her people for peace. The second – in Afrikaans – is an admiration of the natural environment of Africa as a source of inspiration and pride for her people. The English lyrics in the anthem are a call for and a pledge to togetherness, unity and freedom. The national flag of South Africa is equally a mash-up of some sort. The V in the flag symbolises the coming together of different people.
The yellow, green and black are colours found in the flags of sections of the broader liberation movement in South Africa. The red, white and blue are the colours that were used in the flags of the Union of South Africa (established on 31 May 1910. The name Union of South Africa – and the Union Building – and adoption of the Union Jack symbolised the reconciliation and union of the Dutch (Afrikaner) and the British born out of the Vereeniging treaty of 31 May 1902.
This spirit of fusion is expressed by both the symbols used in the Code of Arms and the motto “! Ixe e: ixarra IIke”: Different people coming together; Unity-in-Diversity”. The thing with mash-up aesthetics in music and art is that it often dawdles between banal, soppy, schmaltzy and mawkish vibrations or avant-garde, cutting-edge and innovative vibrations. Strue’s Bob, the Conquerors Dub trudges in the direction of the latter as it howls the roots in the jazz and wails the jazz in reggae.
Die Anthem is the cry-song of children caught between two languages demanding them to cut their tongue to eat. Sacred is a song when it goes beyond form to sing the music of the mountain conjuring the Tabane Bahula Qindi Malombo Holy Trinity hauling New Orleans and Jamaica in Moriya like Jimi Dludlu Hendrix-strumming jazzophiles to an eargasm a’la Dennis Mpale bebopping kwaai like Miriam Makeba singing the roots of jazz.