Isandla: A Third Hand

He is an intense being, just a mention of his name changes everything. As I introduced the song ‘Umthakathi’ the whole vibration on the bandstand transformed.

Let me tell you a little bit about umthakathi (witch/magician) the man, the honest truth is I had never seen him but heard so much about him as a child. Now thinking back I realize that, I had never really met anyone who had a direct encounter with him. But I guess that is where his greatness comes from, he is a mystical being. With that said, I do recall feeling his presence the one time when I walked from kwaMalume uSibiya, whom lived in a village across the river from ours eMaqongqo. It was very late at night and I walked alone. Just after I had crossed the river I felt ‘ukushwaqeka kwezinwele’ (I’m sorry I cannot translate that part, one has to experience it). I also remember hearing dogs howling (umkhulungwane) which also according to the elders signaled that ‘Umthakathi’ was indeed in the village. I quickly ran home an never looked back. As a child I was also told that if you looked back and saw his eyes you will never be able to turn your head back ever again.

Back on the bandstand, perhaps there is really no difference between the two spaces since my village in my many ways was a type of bandstand too, people negotiated space and improvised almost every move. As we played ‘Umthakathi’ in this particular concert and different soloist/improvisers were engaging deeper with the theme, came my turn to improvise. I had gone far out with the comping and didn’t know how to leave this role, but at the same time melodic improvisational ideas and countrapatal layers would not stop coming.

It was for the very first time in my life as a pianist that for a second, I wished for a third hand. As I looked between my two hands while comping a very meditative rhythmic figure, I started seeing another hand. A hand that did not look like mine emerged between my hands. Soon I put my hand over it and it guided me over a three note motif that I had never played or heard before. So amazed at what has just happened I went back to the rhythmic comping figure. There third hand never stopped playing, I panicked so much that I stopped playing completely and allow the next soloist to improvise.

Whose hand was it?
Nduduzo Makhathini

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