A few days ago I caught wind of some music news in South Africa. The legendary musician Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse just “dropped” a new hit; but the “hit” wasn’t music, and the verb wasn’t “drop”–it was “pass”. At age 61, Sipho had just passed the matric, the equivalent to the US high school diploma. Sipho and I had a conversation about his accomplishment. To listen to the interview, click below:
To learn more about Sipho, you can check out his website, or go to Triple M Entertainment. Sipho’s top three music hits are “Shikisa”, “Jive Soweto”, and “Burnout”, and you can hear some of “Shikisa” and “Jive Soweto” in the recorded interview featured above.
The photo here on the left is Sipho (right) with the school Principal (left).
The Khoi (or Khoe), as Sipho also discusses in the interview, are the aboriginal Khoisan pastoral people of South Africa (along with the San) who have lived there for millennia. They are distinct from the Bantu majority of the region in appearance, custom, and language. Sipho mentioned that his paternal grandmother was a Khoi, and he is interested in studying their traditional music at university. Since our conversation, I have been researching and digging around in our own Leo Sarkisian music archive for material on the Khoisan for my own curiosity, as well as for Sipho — as a … oh let’s call it a belated graduation gift. For a contemporary overview of the music of the Khoi, musicearth does a nice job. Our archives also revealed some fascinating nuggets of knowledge about the Khoi. First is an article written by the Scottish musician, musicologist and historian Percival Kirby (1887-1970) in 1961 in the journal African Music, focusing on musical analyses of the bow in South African and Angolan Khoisan culture, “Harmonic Sense among Bushmen, Hottentot and Bantu.” Percy was one of the first scholars to research and publish rigorously on native South African music, most notably in his 1934 magnum opus, The Musical Instruments of the Native Races of South Africa, published by Oxford University Press. For more on Kirby and his collections see Biography of a Colonial Music Archive and the University of Cape Town’s “image blog” of the Kirby Collection. On the latter link, you can click on the photo of the marimba with tin can resonators to begin a visual tour of Kirby’s South African musical instruments. The VOA Sarkisian archive also turned up an article from the same music journal on Khoisan art, “Some Forms of Bushman Art“, written in 1957 by James Walton. While not directly related to music culture, the article adds an interesting dimension to knowledge on Khoisan culture.
I searched high and low for Khoisan music in our vaults but came up nearly empty-handed, except for one album in our Hugh Tracey Collection from I.L.A.M. (International Library of African Music). Mr. Tracey (1893-1977) personally donated an entire collection (all on vinyl) to Leo Sarkisian. The title is Sound of Africa, and it has some fabulous selections of Zulu folk music, including several selections of musical bows (ugubu and maykhweyana) and flutes (igekle). The singer is Constance Magogo (one of Leo Sarkisian’s favorites), and she sings in Zulu, but the ugubu bow instrument is also shared by the Khoi, so it’s worth a listen here:
The musical instruments indigenous to the Khoi are the mbulumbumba and the bavugu.
The mbulumbumba is a musical bow with a small gourd resonator attached to the bow. The player uses a small stick to strike the bow string, making it vibrate, and then holds the gourd against the stomach to amplify the sound. It is played in South Africa, Angola, and Namibia, and in Brazil (where it is known as the berimbau). The bavugu is a stamping tube instrument based on the movement of compressed air. It is played primarily by women.
Speaking of women, Sipho also says in the interview that he is interested in studying anthropology with a focus on Khoi music, because, as noted above, his paternal grandmother was Khoi. Interestingly enough, he explained, she didn’t reveal her ancestry to him and his family until Nelson Mandela demanded the return of the remains of Saartjie Baartman’s (also known as the “Hottentot Venus”) to her native South African Soil.
Congratulations again to Sipho ‘Hostix’ Mabuse on passing the matric! I look forward to hearing his new album too. Perhaps we’ll hear a new song on adult education with jazzy colors of Khoi musical bows and stamping tubes. Stay tuned, friends, and stay well.