Africa the Musical! Sweet Scenes Capturing Life from a Shadowy Past

2014-12-09 16:59

The majesty of Ancient Africa has always dazzled all the people who came within its radiance. Even today though Africa's house seems to have fallen through colonialism and subjugation of Africans, people of the world are still discerning Africa’s deeply felt greatness, and in more ways than one are calling it Mother Africa, Mama Africa.

My recent meditation on the history of Africa was aroused just recently by Kelly Khumalo’s new Venda song Asine which is part of her album Back to my Roots.  The song of course comes soon after the death of the popular soccer hero Senzo Meyewi who was very close to Kelly in many ways.

I see the whole Asine song within a much broader historic context that even Kelly might not have thought or ever imagined. Sometimes simple acts as these as expressed by Kelly become forces to be reckon with.

The most captivating or rather meditative part of Kelly’s Asine song is the powerful African Rhythms. Kelly has teamed up with the legendary music producer Sello Chicco Twala in the song. It is Chicco's skill and natural talent who arranged the traditional African drumming in the Asine. The drums if you have a discerning inner ear literally speak in words and sentences.

For those who know this of course is the evolution of the Venda malombo music. Malombo music (in Sepedi and Setwana “malopo”) means enchantments, chanting and beating of drums to create a trance like state – a mystical experience: a call upon spirits to the scene of trouble and depression. This is where the concept “the talking drums of Africa” originate.

Unlike Western music, which is built on simple rhythmic patterns, like the one-two-three of waltz, traditional African drumming as expressed through Kelly Khumalo's Asine song is polyrhythmic. After the opening drum - each drummer takes up a complementary variation and elaborates on it, crisscrossing it and weaving it into the rhythms of the other drummers to create a dense deep felt emotive trance, where Kelly Khumalo inject her vocals announcing the theme.

Most non-Africans cannot follow the three dimensional depth of malombo music beyond the introduction. The music is simply beyond their horizon. But Africans, and mostly those who went through rites of initiation, deeply hear and recognise it and respond to it.

This simple act of Kelly coming up with this song Asine should be lauded. Asine should go beyond glamour into the historic archives of this country.

If you follow the history of Venda you will be aware that the drums for use in malombo music were specially made, and were considered sacred. They were not housed with other drums, they were housed separately in a quiet secluded area. The malombo drums were designed to rouse the earth's life force.

Within the ancient Venda historic context, to have the honor of beating the these drums, you have to complete a rigorous apprenticeship where you have to memorize a whole catechism of secret rituals.

African traditional music was raised to the level of modern excellence by Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson sprung into the limelight through the drumming of the song Billie Jean and conducting a moon walk. Drumming and moon walking are exclusively the music and dance of Africa. As Michael Jackson once said, that he did not invent moon walk but he copied it from "black children on the street, I only perfected the dance, it has always been there in African communities".

Michael Jackson first conducted moon walk in public on the 25th March 1983, which is the period that effectively marked the critical turning point for Michael Jackson: from him being a superstar to being the superstar of the Century.

Another historic factor to consider is that ancient African songs were designed to instruct as much as they pleased. Such songs in ancient African context which was mostly oral, were a vital force in community life. They tell people about their history, teach them morality, and explain human nature and changing social customs, as Kelly Khumalo is doing in Asine.

Kelly Khumalo should be encouraged. Much what has gone before called African music is nothing but commercial rubbish. But here is Kelly Khumalo seeking to bridge the gap between the old and the new - not by re-creating the past, but by recognising its affinity with the spirit that animated the past, and from the affinity creating a new art for modern Africa.

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