UKZN Student the Youngest Delegate to Present at International Music Symposium
A student presentation on the shifting relevance of revolutionary songs in South Africa captured the attention of international delegates at the Symposium of the ‘International Conference for Traditional Music (ICTM) Study Group on Applied Ethnomusicology’, hosted by the University of Fort Hare in East London.
Nhlakanipho Ngcobo (22), an Honours student in Applied Ethnomusicology at the UKZN School of Music, was invited by ICTM to deliver a presentation of his research work which focused on the relevance and impact of traditional revolutionary songs on the youth of today: “New African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and South African Students Congress (SASCO) Revolutionary Songs: New Meaning”.
Ngcobo presented a short ethnographic film titled: ‘Y-tjukutja ANC’. The film provides some insight into the way in which the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) used popular culture to campaign for their party during elections. It shows visuals of demonstrations on campus and at ANC election rallies where youth are seen singing revolutionary songs that are remnants of the struggle for liberation from apartheid. His research explores how the historic songs have “new meaning” and are for example used to influence voting patterns.
Ngcobo’s research revealed that many old revolutionary songs have been modernised to reflect the present day. His film shows how a Disk Jockey at a rally played fusion sounds that combined revolutionary songs with contemporary house music.
Some ANCYL members are filmed singing songs such as “Mshiniwami” (my machine gun) and Dubul’ ibhunu (Kill the Boer) with the same energy and buoyancy of ANC stalwarts before them. Ngcobo says his research highlights how the youth of today have a different interpretation of those songs, ‘When the song Mshiniwami is sung, people are not referring to the MK (Umkhonto We Sizwe) that were the military wing of the ANC, they are singing about power, the power of the ANC and of the people of this country today. They are also reminding people of the contribution Jacob Zuma made during the struggle years.’
Likewise, an ANCYL member, Thanduxolo Sabelo, interviewed by Ngcobo in his film, says the controversial Dubul’ ibhunu song should not be taken literally, that the song is interpreted by the members of the ANC to be about challenging a system and not meant to incite violence against a particular race group.
Ngcobo’s study shows how the struggle songs of the apartheid era hold strong and have been preserved, ‘The songs are a part of traditional music that has an impact on communities. Every song is powerful as it tells a story, it evokes emotion and informs society. Through the song, you learn the history of the community and the country,’ he said.
Supervisor and Head of School of Music, Dr Patricia Opondo says Ngcobo’s research was ‘impressive’.
Tutor Lebogang Sejamoholo assisted Ngcobo with his research and accompanied him to the ICTM Symposium. Both students said they were extremely honoured to have been given the opportunity to travel and attend the symposium, ‘We got to meet Ethnomusicologists from around the world and present on such a high level. The conference was interesting and inspiring, it encourages us to want to be presenting papers at future conferences and to be just like them (professional Ethnomusicologists). We exchanged information, we learnt so many new things and we visited a museum with traditional music instruments we had never seen before,’ said Sejamoholo.
When out of the classroom symposiums, delegates were treated to a visit of the University’s National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS), ANC Archives and De Beers Gallery of African Arts. And towards the end of the conference programme travelled to attend the annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Sejamoholo says this was a bonus experience they were thrilled about. ‘We got to tour the International Library of African Music (ILAM) and attended a special workshop where we learnt how to make a traditional Xhosa music instrument, this is something we would never have imagined.’
Ngcobo says it was a life-changing inspiring experience that has motivated him to continue with his studies.
ICTM is an international organisation that sees the collaboration of experts on traditional music from around the world. It highlights the significant role of traditional music in communities all over the world.
Ngcobo and Sejamoholo’s opportunity of attending the ICTM Symposium was funded by UKZN’s Student Services Division. Through the Student Co-curricular Fee, students are assisted to partake in various co-curricular activities such as conferences, workshops, seminars, summits and training and exchange programmes.
According to the Executive Director of Student Services, Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, in 2013 they were able to support students who engaged in numerous programmes in various countries including the UK, USA, Ghana, Sweden, Germany and in and around South Africa. This year the fund continued to support students—with the only challenge being that the demand was much higher for limited resources.
- Sejal Desai