We rounded the bend and I saw where we were going. I got a hint of how amazing it might be. “Holy…” A simple expletive can’t sum it up. When we got there, the escarpment was covered in fog and gave the already mystical area an ethereal tone. I’d seen it before, the end of the earth, in film and photos, but being there was entirely different. Breathtaking would be an understatement. The next day we drove on from God’s Window, north and east through Mpumalanga, home to many Ndebele, toward, but never reaching Limpopo, home to mostly Pedi (aka North Sotho). I left some of me on the escarpment and some of the escarpment came with me.
While nature has blessed this region, history has not. For centuries there has been a pattern of oppression and that only got more extreme post-World World II under Apartheid. The effects of apartheid are covered much better and more heartbreakingly elsewhere so I won’t speak much to it.
But under the apartheid policy where all the tribal and ethnic groups were kept separate–apartheid means separateness–from each other, the SABC recorded and broadcast specific programming for different groups. A few years ago Eagle Records (UK) dug through and released some of these tracks previously heard by only a small groups of people for their African Renaissance series.
I got Vol. 5: Ndebele and North Sotho a few years ago. It’s a really varied and great collection. Of the two CDs, disc one, Ndebele, is the more consistently good one to my ears. It has everything from hypnotic guitar-based street songs to acapella Mbube-style songs (or isicathamiya if you want to be more correct). The driving and lifting upbeat in many of the songs amazes me–I can hear the tight connection of music and dance in the culture. Disc two, North Sotho, has a lot more percussion and vocal tracks. Despite disc one getting more of my listening time, this is still good.
Musically, my main issue with the collection is that a handful of tracks are marked by dated 80s sounding instrumentation and production. If you skip those tracks, though, this collection is fantastic.
Koernag Namadlanga – Ngiyalila (mp3, from African Renaissance, vol 5 disc 1: Ndebele)
Mathula Home Singers – Bhula Wesangoma (mp3, from African Renaissance, vol 5 disc 1: Ndebele)
Sehlopha Sa Balobedu – A Re Yeng Go Nyaka Dingaka (mp3, from African Renaissance, vol 5 disc 2: North Sotho)
You can get it from amazon.