I love music. It touches and soothes the places in me that struggle to find expressions for all the confusing, contradictory, complicated things I think and feel. I love how artists can say things with just a few words and then make those words communicate to me on many different levels, because of the combination of the words with music.
I have recently discovered some beautiful and fun music from Zimbabwe. Two of my children and I were in Walmart, a place I try to avoid like the plague. But, we had gone to the next least expensive shoestore and all the shoes in my son’s size were too expensive. They grow out of shoes so fast that I couldn’t bear to pay the higher price. So, I went to WalMart, and sure enough, they had some fine shoes for half of what they were at the other store. Well, that was worth the trip, I thought, even if I do hate going into WalMart.
But then, something else grabbed our attention–loud music from one of those displays where they have 30 or so different styles of CDs, and you can listen to three or four samples of each one. We went over to it, and I’m so glad we did. My 11-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and I spent a wonderful ten or so minutes together, listening to a wild, very eclectic variety of music. Kid’s music, exercise music (Latin, big band, etc.), Celtic wedding music, Celtic hymns, lullabies, music from various decades. We laughed, we cringed, we got excited, we had fun.
My son’s eyes lit up with one CD selection and kept getting brighter with each consecutive selection from that CD. He knew all of them, because his 1st grade teacher plays classical music while they write. I didn’t even know my son knew Canon in D, and here he loves it!
I felt so relaxed listening to selections from a CD of Celtic hymns, but they did not have that one in stock. My daughter really liked the Celtic wedding song arrangements, so we decided to get that one. I wanted to get two other CDs with beautiful arrangements from Pachelbel and Bach, but decided to exert some self control.
In the end, we did buy one more CD, and oh, I’m so glad. It is called Spirit of Africa: Insingizi. If my son’s eyes lit up when he heard the music from his classroom, his whole face was beaming when he heard the a capella selections from this CD. We listened to it on the way home, and it is rich and beautiful music. (Ironic, huh, that we went to WalMart to spend less on shoes, and then came out with shoes plus 2 CDs. So much for saving money. On a bigger level, it sure is nice to have something emotionally satisfying come out of a trip to WalMart!)
I always wondered when I saw those displays, if the CDs were just cheap, cheesy imitations of “the real thing”. Come to find out, this CD IS the real thing–an original compilation by Insingizi, a group of singers from Zimbabwe. (Outside of the US, it was released as Voices of Southern Africa. The music is so full of rich rhythms and harmonies, clicks (wonderful phonemes that I have never been able to master, but which make me excited whenever I hear them), all combined to evoke lots of emotion. And all of that without my even understanding a word.
I was, indeed, saddened that there were no lyrics or translation inside the CD cover. I found Insingizi’s website and wrote and asked if they could send me a copy of the lyrics and translation. One of the artists, Vusu Mkhaya, wrote back and sent a copy of the liner notes, which he said they were aware had not been included in the American release. When I asked him if I could post the song summaries on my blog and share the song meanings which fill out the meaning of the music I like so much, he graciously agreed.
So, I am posting them below, copied from the liner notes Vusu sent me. But first, one more discovery that came about as a result of finding this CD and contacting Insingizi. At the bottom of Vusu’s email to me was a link to a website called MoZuluArt. If you go there, be sure to read about the project as well as listen to some of the selections. This amazing production is described as “a fusion of traditional zulu music with classical music based mainly on Mozart” The whole thing threatened to blow a couple of fuses in my eclectic-loving brain.
I listened to some of the audio clips from MoZuluArt, and they make me cry in a very good way. Again, a few carefully chosen words expressing not only art, but deep meaning, in an artistic setting that sets my neurons jumping all over the place and makes me say, “Yes. That is what I feel. That is what I think. That is what I believe. And it’s okay that I can’t express it well, because somebody else does and they’ve done so in a format that I can share in.”
Okay, here are selections from the liner notes from Spirit of Africa: Insingizi–songs and words which are touching my heart deeply, on many different topics I think about (faith, relationships, politics, family, hope, compassion), and expressing what I feel:
Insingizi have released this intriguing 17-track a-cappella album. The album has an inspiring message that has been built on lyrics that cover a wide range of challenges facing people today. The vocals are blended with so much dexterity as to bring out not only the message but to do so with captivating prowess.
Gershom B. H. Moyo
Evidence of the exact origins of Mbube is lost in history. It is regarded as dating back in Zulu tradition to King Shaka, when the original style was adopted as royal music to be sung to the Zulu King in his honour by his male supporters. The style – originally a rich a cappella male choral approach usually sung in Zulu – appeared in the early 20th century as ingom’ ebusuku meaning ‘night music’. It became most popular with Zulu and Swazi industrial and domestic workers from the rural areas. In the early 1940’s, one of the Ingoni Ebusuku groups recorded a song called “Mbube” (‘the lion’) which became a model for the later international hit song “Wimoweh” (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and since then this type of music has become known as Mbube.
1. Ingoma (Vusumuzi Vusa Ndlovu)–In a world where the hype of western music appears to be stifling the growth of traditional African music, Insingizi assert that African music holds its own. They acknowledge that this music is a heritage from our rich ancestry and that young people should embrace it with warmth and a sense of ownership. The chorus of this song proudly announces that they are going to sing this rich heritage with pride and spread it throughout the world – a task they are doing so well.
2. Amasango (Blessings Nqo Nkomo)—“Amasango” is a si Ndebele word for the ‘heavenly gates’. This song is an appeal for divine intervention by a young man wishing to conquer his various challenges and enemies. It realises God as the ultimate answer to the world’s seemingly insurmountable impediments and obstacles. The background rhythmic percussion in this song is captivating.
3. Ibele le ndlela (Blessings Nqo Nkomo)–This speaks about the proverbial seed that fell onto the beaten pathway. While it grew and bore fruit, it never ripened because every bird and passer-by helped themselves to the yet unripe fruit. It warns young people of life’s impending dangers and exhorts them to prepare themselves for a long journey ahead. Not least of these dangers is the AIDS challenge that threatens to wipe out the productive generation in Southern Africa.
4. Jerusalem —The English and the si Ndebele languages are inextricably blended in this descriptive piece that depicts Jerusalem, a longed-for celestial city. Far from talking about Jerusalem in the Middle East which is fraught with violence, it describes instead the heavenly paradise with fairy-tale mountains, valleys and rivers which will one day be our home sweet home.
5. Isqoqodo (Blessings Nqo Nkomo)—Isqoqodo is a ‘hammer kop’, a bird that burrows through the hardest tree trunk until it reaches the juicy sap of the tree. This song describes how the hammer-kop burrows through countless trees on mountains. If anyone still doubted the prowess of the troupe in manipulating the click sound, then they are indeed hard to please!
6. Nanziwe (Blessings Nqo Nkomo)–A romantic nostalgia about past blissful days spent with a sweetheart called ‘Nanziwe’. Described as the man’s mainstay, she used to bring so much joy, love and satisfaction before the love fairy tale ended. Now a nonentity and demeaned by society because of the ended love affair, the man is making overtures to Nanziwe to come back and bring back the lost pride and restore respect to the man’s home. The lyrics and rhythm in this song make it a masterpiece and you will be left salivating for more.
7. Ngizobambelela (Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)—Ngizobambelela means “I will hold on” to Jesus’ love. This short song describes Jesus’ love as infinite, deep, sweet and dependable. It is an everlasting fountain that is forever springing with life. This love is contrasted with humanity’s love which is undependable and short-lived.
8. Isiqholo (Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)—‘Isiqholo’ is an extremely stubborn person who does not heed even the wisest counsel. The Ndebele nation has always believed that talk is over-rated as a means of resolving dispute. What this stubborn person needs is a knobkerrie, a menacing, traditional crushing weapon carved out of wood. It has a bulging head and a long handle and could be used to assist the aged with walking, or for annihilating an enemy’s head and knees. Its efficacy in bringing stubborn persons to line has never been doubted. The song discourages the use of guns in preference to this traditional weapon which over the years has come to be identified with the Ndebele nation.
9. Mama (Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)–This song would make a perfect present for Mother’s Day as it is a tribute to a mother who has given everything to her beloved child. She has nursed, loved, bathed, fed, changed diapers, given character and spent her last dollar on her child. Now successful, the child attributes the success to the dedicated mother and implores God to shower her with countless blessings
10. Ungangidluli Jesu (Gospel, arr. Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)–In a scene reminiscent of the leper crying out to Jesus not to pass him by but to put his hand on him in order to have his leprosy cured, this song is a cry to the Almighty. It is an appeal to God to attend to the poor person’s needs and to shower him with bountiful blessings. The person sees blessings being showered all around him but not an iota comes his way. It is a touching song that speaks to many poor people whose needs are evident but are surprisingly ignored by those blessed with the means. All they are asking, is, “God, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”
11. Yint’enjani (Ndlovu / Nkomo / Moyo)–This song is a riddle. It is a rhetoric question, asking what kind of food it is that is eaten only privately in the serenity of the night when children are fast asleep. People have many names for it but rarely are those names ever mentioned in public. What kind of food is this that people love so much but is consumed only in the heart of the night until daylight?
12. Uthando luka Jesu (Vusumuzi Vusa Ndlovu)–Insingizi have come out as the masters of the click sound. You will be intrigued by the art of blending the Ndebele language’s click sounds in order to bring out the exact description of how God’s love is superior to humanity’s ever diminishing love. While God’s love grows daily, a person’s love fades until it is infinitesimally small and unrecognisable. On the other hand, Jesus broke the chains that previously bound humanity to hatred and selfishness.
13. Siyabonga (Gospel, arr., Blessings Nqo Nkomo)—Siyabonga is a song of gratitude. Thanksgiving – a trait that seems to have been forgotten by today’s society is a virtue that builds strong communities. The group is thanking their followers, parents and God for the good fortune they have had.
14. Uzoyidela (Vusumuzi Vusa Ndlovu)–This song is about justice – something taken for granted in most western cultures. The song talks about a cruel strongman who goes about beating innocent citizens, calling them names and doing everything derogative to bring innocent people to shame. Like death and taxes, the judgement for this despicable person is certain. Insingizi warn that he will be brought to book before a court and be tried for all his misdeeds.
15. Ko Bulawayo (Vusumuzi Vusa Ndlovu)— Bulawayo is Zimbabwe’s second city. It is proudly called by different names because of its size, its diverse people, its various exhilarating entertainment spots, its idiosyncrasies and its cosmopolitan outlook. It embodies a tantalising society which has broken from the past into modern sophistication, yet still proudly identifies itself with the richness of the past generation. It is home to the immortal soccer team called Highlanders, a gigantic team with a passionate band of supporters and a model for soccer administration. It has achieved the rare and unprecedented feat of being champions for five consecutive years. Bulawayo to this day is passionately called, among other names, the “City of Kings”, “Blue Skies” and a number of emotionally arousing vernacular names.
16. Vinqo (Trad., arr., Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)—“Ama Vinqo Vinqo” are skin ripples of fat that are characteristic of bulkiness. Fatness in Ndebele society is a desirable sign of success and good health. This song is dedicated to Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, the late great former vice-president of Zimbabwe who founded the ZAPU liberation movement. He was affectionately called “u ma Fuku fuku” in reference to his large frame. Insingizi lament that since his departure, Zimbabweans have faced unimaginable suffering and despondence. We miss him greatly.
17. Mbonqane Groove (Dumisani Ramadu Moyo)–This is an instrumental masterpiece. The title suggests that the rhythm could have been carved out of Mbonqane, a Bulawayo peripheral suburb renowned for a lot of humour.
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