Umlotha – the Post-burning

‘Umlotha’ features on Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds (2020) on Blue Note Records. The project is a thought that breaks into sound towards a sounding out the messages, texts and songs of elsewhere. In this sense, the project seeks to remind us of the totality of an African worldview that sees existence in the form of spirit –– thus, acknowledges a parallel dialoguing between the living, the ancestors and the children not yet born but conceived in spirit. ‘Umlotha’ is a symbol, evidence or a manifestation of these multi-realm interactions.

Loosely translated, umlotha is a Zulu word for ashes. Over many years, African peoples around the continent have used ashes for various purposes including cleansing, protection and other healing purposes sometimes in a form of isiwasho (blessed waters). Here the song explores these aspects at a sonic register but also look at the symbolic spheres of ashes. That is to say, in this piece I look at ashes as evidence of a particular event having taken place –– a trace of past happenings.

In the context of the continent, I think about the erasure of our histories and how one remembers from such disparities of evidence. Again, at a sonic register, how do we recall sounds that have been removed and displaced from their source –– how do we tell stories that have been stolen from their originators?

Africa suffers a history of burnt memories. In this sense, umlotha symbolises the post-burning and that which remains after these catastrophes (slave trade, colonization and apartheid) have gone. But umlotha also represents a refusal to be completely removed from history, it is a mode of protest. For instance, in the context of a ritual ceremony, umlotha lives as remains representing the success of a given ceremony but also a living memory of the intensions coded in ritual.

Below is a short script I wrote as a guideline to the making of this music video, explored in four movements; Preparation, Invocation, Healing and Rebirth

Scene 1 preparation (0.00):

This scene opens with a man detached from his past; he has been trying to get home. Somewhere in the wilderness under a dry tree[1], he sleeps on his bed of memory[2], he suddenly falls into deep sleep[3]. He then enters a dream where he is shown a glimpse of his journey ahead. He then wakes up and starts walking to the land of his ancestors. While he walks, an ancestor emerges from another register of existence (celestial or underworlds feeling/or hologram). Soon a guide (an elder) appears and takes him to a place of ritual. As moon was watching, at night they finally arrive at the village and they are welcomed by the dancers and drummers who are the trusted knowledge keepers ordained by the ancient gods.

Scene 2 invocation (2:50):

In this scene fire is a dominating theme and represents a making of a lost world. The intensity of the fire grows, and at the centre a mbira[4] (thumb piano) emerges inside the flame. At some point the man stretches his arm grabs the mbira. He then moves to the ritual place (umsamu) and starts play the song of the ancient gods that he had received in a dream. The ritual dance begins here. As the music develops an image of great the pyramids develop behind, a memory of the great Kemet. The focus here is on the dance ensemble and the drums, while an ancient goddess dances in another world acknowledging the arrival of her son. Towards the end I see a God image appearing from behind the pyramid[5] interacting with the sun/moon.

Scene 3 healing (4:20):

The man falls into a deep trance, his body gets animated. I imagine a lot of flashes with the light at this point. I see this as a dramatic scene. I also see everyone dissolving into the soil at some point. Perhaps an underwater ritual. An image of the womb would be amazing at this point, perhaps water as a representation of birth or towards birth. Later we can emerge from the ground into a new world.

Scene 4 rebirth (7:00):

In this scene all worlds collapse into one, invoking a wholeness of an African worldview beyond the material and exposing that which lives in the invisible worlds. The ritual goddess reaches the fireplace and sprinkles the ashes. At this point the man is dressed in all white[6] with an Ank symbol in his forehead. This is a tranquil scene, almost in a utopian mode. The pace gets really slow at this point until it all disappears back to a new world. Then a stream of eternity emerges as a symbol of continuity and flow –– also a renewed strength.

List of symbols:

Below are some Kemet hieroglyphics incorporated in the video. The intention is to evoke a lost world and what lives behind as memory of these worlds towards a languaging of our imaginations.

Written and Conceptualised by Nduduzo Makhathini


[1] Symbolic of lost dreams

[2] Memory here is invoked in the ancient Kemet symbols

[3] Here deep sleep refers to being one with one’s ancestors –– ubu-thongo

[4] Here the mbira symbolizes the spirits of the Vadzimu that predates the making of the Western piano.

[5] The pyramids here represent black origin but also a triadic worldview of an African that informs our immortality.

[6] The color white here stands for purity and is a symbol of invocations to the Orishas as understood within ancient Yoruba cultures.

Link to Video:

6 thoughts on “Umlotha – the Post-burning

  1. Your work is amazing Mkhulu, truly takes us on a journey to a different world. It is so methodical! Thokoza Mkhulu 👏👏


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