In the presence of folklore
Musicians Dizu Platijies and Ibuyambo bring their unique brand of South African music to St. John’s College and the International Folk Art Market
Eight members of the South African ensemble Ibuyambo bring their brightly percussive music and colorful stage presence to Santa Fe this weekend. The group, led by Dizu Plaatjies, is a standout at this year’s International Folk Art Market. The musicians offer a free concert on the evening of Wednesday, July 8, at St. John’s College, and play at the annual market on Museum Hill on Saturday, July 11, and Sunday, July 12.
Plaatjies is the founder and former leader of the South African group Amampondo, which performed worldwide for more than 15 years. “The group started out as Amampondo and that is derived from the Pondo Tribe,” said Jongisilo Pokwana ka Menziwa, manager of Dizu Plaatjies and Ibuyambo, in an interview from Johannesburg. The Pondo (aka Mpondo) people belong to a Southern Nguni cultural group — Nguni is the collective name for a major group of Bantu-speaking peoples who live between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean on the southern tip of the African continent.
The group leader returned to South Africa in 1997 following an international tour with Amampondo. He began lecturing about African dance and music at the University of Cape Town. Today he is a senior lecturer at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town. “Most of the work he does is related to music production and development,” said Pokwana, a tribal leader who also plays acoustic guitar and piano.
Plaatjies was born in 1960 in Lusikisiki, a town on the rural outskirts of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. As a child, he was interested in the traditional ways of his people. His father, a healer, saw that Dizu and his other children participated in traditional ceremonies and schooled them in tribal customs and music. Plaatjies went on to graduate from the University of Cape Town.
He has been encouraged on his path — focusing on presenting a modernized form of South African tribal music to the wider world — by Ugandan composer Evangelisto Muyanda, Cuban percussionist Changuito, and Austrian ethnologist and musician Gerhard Kubik. He has integrated nontraditional elements into his performances; these include working with rhythms that relate to the music of Mozambique, Congo, and Zimbabwe.
His current ensemble, Ibuyambo, came into existence after he gathered a new group of musicians for his debut album, 2003’s
Ibuyambo. He explores novel, interesting sounds but still in the context of a band primarily playing locally produced percussion instruments. The storytelling lyrics, sometimes delivered in a lively call-and-response style, deal with the difficulties of reconciling traditions and the issues of modern life, social disillusionment, and romantic themes.
In Santa Fe, audiences will hear Ibuyambo performing a host of percussion instruments and guitar, but no horns. The music is dazzling and often playful, but it also holds deep tales. “There are cultural music and cultural dances and cultural festivities that happen during the year,” Pokwana said. “Dizu Plaatjies started this movement and wanted to popularize it and show how these people dance and sing and celebrate in the scope of the African presence of folklore. This movement gave to what is now called Ibuyambo, a word that means ‘back to the roots’ or ‘homecoming.’ This is why you see the group uses instruments like the marimba and sometimes the kora [stringed instrument] and the
mbira [or African thumb-piano]. “The performance is about music and dance and also showcasing our attire that is worn for various festivities. In our culture, there is a particular music and a particular dance and particular attire for particular occasions, whether it is when a child is born or when a boy is going to initiation school [for manhood rites involving traditional circumcision] or when someone dies.”
The group’s acoustic guitar is a new innovation with Ibuyambo. In Plaatjies’ earlier work, he collaborated with pop and jazz musicians, orchestral brass players, and techno dance producers, but only in his newest work — including on his second album, African Kings (2008) — did he add a Western instrument: the guitar. However, it is played in the
maskandi style common in rural southern Africa. Marketgoers can find out more in an intimate workshop with Ibuyambo.
Dizu Plaatjies; courtesy International Folk Art Market