In a country with a dizzying patchwork of cultures and 11 official
languages, it is not surprising that South Africa also boasts a rich and
diverse set of ethnic musical traditions. Carnegie Hall’s UBUNTU
festival provides an introduction to some of the varied traditions of
this nation with performances by up-and-coming and
established South African artists.
While South Africa’s regional and ethnic differences result in an exhilarating variety of sounds, one unifying element among the nation’s music is a powerful focus on the voice. In South Africa, vocal and choral music arises from many different origins, including sacred music, work settings, and the anti-Apartheid protest movement of the 20th century.
A later style of Zulu men’s a cappella singing is isicathamiya—a word derived from the Zulu verb cathama, which means “walking softly” or “tread carefully.”
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Another choral tradition—not as well known in the United States—is the Cape Malay singing of the Cape region of South Africa.
In addition to traditional singing styles, South Africa has started to produce a steady stream of Western classical singers, with young performers in every major conservatory and opera training program around the world.
Madala Kunene and Phuzekhemisi—two masters from South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province—headline a double-bill program that showcases spiritual aspects and high-energy styles in contemporary Zulu maskandi music.
Traditional-instrument maker and master Dizu Plaatjies and his group Ibuyambo perform music of the Xhosa people and of other Southern African traditions.