About seven years ago I happened upon the book African Stars- Studies in Black South African Performance (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology) by Veit Erlmann. Here's an editorial review of that book:
Erlmann (anthropology, Freie Universat, Berlin) writes with sympathetic authority on the South African musicians, composers, and dancers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who paved the way for such contemporary figures as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Unlike David Coplan's In Township Tonight! (Longman, 1986), which attempts to provide a comprehensive history of modern black South African performing arts, this study features concentrated, scholarly essays on several significant individuals. Quietly challenging those who view the evolution of the performance styles in terms of sociopolitical mass movements, Erlmann gives credit where it's due to such influential creative talents as African American choral singer Orpheus McAdoo and South African composer Reuben Caluza. For African studies and performing arts collections with an interest in world music and dance.http://www.amazon.com/African-Stars-Studies-Performance-Ethnomusicology/dp/0226217221
- Anne Sharp, Ypsilanti District Lib., Mich.
Although I found the entire book fascinating reading, I was particularly interested in its chapters on isicathamiya music. Here's some information from other online sources about that genre of South African music:
Isicathamiya (with the 'c' pronounced as a dental click) is a singing style that originated from the South African Zulus. In European understanding, a cappella is also used to describe this form of singing.-snip-
The word itself does not have a literal translation; it is derived from the Zulu verb -cathama, which means walking softly, or tread carefully. Isicathamiya contrasts with an earlier name for Zulu a cappella singing, mbube, meaning "lion". The change in name marks a transition in the style of the music: traditionally, music described as Mbube is sung loudly and powerfully, while isicathamiya focuses more on achieving a harmonious blend between the voices. The name also refers to the style's tightly-choreographed dance moves that keep the singers on their toes.
South African singing groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo demonstrate this style. Isicathamiya choirs are traditionally all male. Its roots reach back before the turn of the 20th century, when numerous men left the homelands in order to search for work in the cities. As many of the tribesmen became urbanized, the style was forgotten through much of the 20th century.
Today, isicathamiya competitions in Johannesburg and Durban take place on Saturday nights, with up to 30 choirs performing from 8 pm to 8 am the following morning
"In the mid-1800s, travelling minstrel shows began to visit South Africa.
At first, as far as can be ascertained, these minstrels were white performers in "black face", but by the 1860s genuine black American minstrel troupes had begun to tour the country, singing spirituals of the American South and influencing many South African groups to form themselves into similar choirs.
Regular meetings and competitions between such choirs soon became popular, forming an entire sub-culture unto itself that continues to this day in South Africa.
Orpheus McAdoo and the Virginia Jubilee Singers were among the most popular of the visiting minstrel groups, touring the country four times (some of his troupe's members, in fact, decided to stay in South Africa). McAdoo was a hero to South Africans of colour, as a model of what a black man could achieve.
This tradition of minstrelsy, joined with other forms, also contributed to the development of isicathamiya, which had its first international hit in 1939 with "Mbube".
This remarkable song by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds was an adaption of a traditional Zulu melody, and has been recycled and reworked innumerable times, most notably as Pete Seeger's hit "Wimoweh" and the international classic "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Here are three video examples of Isicathamiya choirs:
Solomon Linda And The Evening Birds Original Version, The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Uploaded by FLORENCOM on Nov 7, 2007
Solomon Linda And The Evening Birds Original Version, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (El león duerme esta noche) 1939
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - "Homeless"
LadysmthBlackMambazo, Uploaded on Jan 13, 2011
Zulu Isicathamiya choirs
Uploaded by 4824611; February 27, 2009
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