A voice

Mail & Guardian - - Music & Books -

to be im­pa­tient in im­part­ing their skills. I found it bet­ter to re­cruit peo­ple from the town­ship as op­posed to more ru­ral peo­ple. I sit them down and teach them the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of this style of singing. That’s how I set up the KZN Her­itage Ensem­ble in 2016.”

The way Khoza sees it, the foun­da­tion of mu­sic is it­self sto­ry­telling. “For ex­am­ple, im­ilolozelo [lul­la­bies], nezin­ganek­wane [folk tales] were not merely sto­ries. They were his­tor­i­cal. There is one called SququMadevu, about some­one who would come and steal chil­dren. If you look at the po­lit­i­cal his­tory of Mozambique, the Por­tuguese colonis­ers did ac­cost chil­dren while they were go­ing to fetch wa­ter or col­lect firewood and lure them with food or sweets. So when your grand­mother said: Li­zokupha amaswidi izim zim, it was very po­lit­i­cal then but they had to splice it down so as not to scare the chil­dren.”

In a way, the KZN Her­itage Ensem­ble could be­come a cat­a­lyst for Khoza to com­pile a song­book that tells us what the mi­gra­tion and move­ment of peo­ple across Africa and Asia re­veals about our col­lec­tive an­ces­try.

The songs that form part of the group’s reper­toire also tell us quite a bit about what he calls the pre-Shakan era.

“We try to marry the past and the present by first look­ing at the pre-Shakan era. What did they sing about in the era of Ma­lan­dela and Mn­guni? By find­ing that out, you de­ter­mine what the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion was at the time. Were there wars? Were they fre­quent? If the songs fo­cused on na­ture and the beauty of el­i­gi­ble women, then you can de­ter­mine that it was a time of rel­a­tive peace.

“In the Shakan era, many were def­i­nitely about war. Also, you can es­tab­lish what the post-Shakan era tells us about melodies. That was a time of mis­sion­ar­ies and peo­ple like Theophilus [Shep­stone, also known as Somt­seu]. So when you hear the na­tional an­them, you can hear that it was Angli­cised. Through­out our per­for­mance, you get to ex­pe­ri­ence all these things, the Zion­ists and their in­flu­ence.”

A par­al­lel project that in­forms Khoza’s prac­tice is the KZN Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a pri­vately funded fledg­ling in­sti­tu­tion that funds the re­search that may or may not one day turn up in the song­book Khoza is painstak­ingly com­pil­ing.

His in­sa­tiable quest for knowl­edge has had a di­rect ef­fect on his mu­si­cal choices and vo­cal style.

“I was on a mis­sion to not sound like a typ­i­cal Zulu singer,” says Khoza of his ca­reer, which in­cludes collaborations with the likes of Themba Mkhize and Carlo Mombelli and the Pris­on­ers of Strange.

“This was sim­ply be­cause, if you look at the record­ing his­tory of maskandi artists like Mfaz’ Om­nyama, Phuzushukela and Phuzekhemisi, they all sound sim­i­lar by virtue of re­gion. I was af­ter a dif­fer­ent sound, and to ap­proach it as an African and not merely some­one from KwaZu­luNatal. When I col­lab­o­rated with Themba Mkhize, he in­tro­duced me to peo­ple like Richard Bona from Cameroon.

“From there, I didn’t look back and re­flected more, which was when I came across the likes of Cheikh Lô and Is­maël Lô. Their vo­cal ap­proach and their ded­i­ca­tion to their herit- age in­flu­enced me a lot. They have a huge im­pact in Europe even though peo­ple can­not hear [un­der­stand] what they are singing about.

“My al­bum Zilindile, which won a Metro FM award for the best con­tem­po­rary jazz al­bum in 2013, does not have a sin­gle song in English.”

Khoza counts Sazi Dlamini and Nduduzo Makhathini as among con­tem­po­raries on a sim­i­lar quest to dis­cover the hid­den his­to­ries en­coded in the mu­sic.

“Com­par­isons with other coun­tries like Ethiopia are in­ter­est­ing to me. There are sim­i­lar­i­ties. There are Nguni peo­ple that left with Ndaba [an early king] to go to Zam­bia and oth­ers that ended up in Malawi called the Ngoni. They dress like us but their singing is dif­fer­ent.

“This is why I en­joy re­search and travel be­cause all these rev­e­la­tions con­trib­ute to a big­ger picture.”

Time trav­eller: Mbuso Khoza, the leader of the KZN Her­itage Ensem­ble, is on a quest to dis­cover the hid­den his­to­ries en­coded in mu­sic. Photo: Ro­gan Ward

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.