My People and Water

Like all kids growing up in a semi-rural space, most of our games took place by the river. This is quite evident in most of our repertoires and river songs. Alongside us playing by the river, we were also told numerous stories about gigantic creatures that lived in the river, most of our cleansing rituals took place by the river and even the famous ‘ukweshela’ took place by the river.

During the mid to late 80s violence in KwaZulu Natal my family moved from Emaqongqo to a village called Emgodini in Pietermariztburg. Emgodini literally looked like a hole between mountains, there was a special presence in this village. Our temporary home was built not far from the river banks of Umsunduzi which meant as children we would be spending most of our playing time by the river.

On a beautiful summer day, I thought I had overcame my phobia with the river. Something drew me in, I eventually let go and jumped in. It felt like I had just entered another planet, I heard sounds I’ve never experienced before, there was a lot of light. As I wondered what was taking place, seconds became hours, hours to days, days to years and eventually I came out through the help of one of the elderly man that happened to be around.

As I came out there were a lot of people, neighbors, friends standing by the river banks. Everyone looked worried, apparently I had been gone for quite a while and therefore most people were amazed to see me come out alive. Quite honestly I do not know what had happened but I felt transported to another world and I was struggling with coming back.

River stories and songs

Nduduzo Makhathini

After The Rain

They were all dressed in white garments, they looked taller than any being I’ve seen in this realm, their feet did not reach the ground. Somehow I knew their names, although amongst themselves they spoke in a language I couldn’t recognize, a more musical language then what we speak on this side. They surrounded me and stretched their hands in the air, and began chanting in very deep voices, I could also hear the drum from afar. They sung an ancient song, the birds sang along too it seemed as though the whole universe eventually remembered the song and for a moment every living thing could sing. Then another gigantic being appeared from the sky and suddenly everyone was gone, the music had stopped and I also had disappeared but continued to see, I continued to hear.

Then I woke up,

29.12.2017

– Nduduzo Makhathini

FROM TRADITION THROUGH TO INNOVATION

Improvisation could also be seen as a way of trying to understand and interpret movement around us, in a similar way that I believe some of the stories that my grandmother told me though in the tradition, they were not entirely based on what she had experienced but rather pieces of improvisation that were derived from her intuition and her willingness to understand the world that surrounded her.

At times during her storytelling there were moments when she would also surprised by the direction at which some her stories would go, such a healthy feeling for any improviser.

Nduduzo Makhathini

Imibono

During the festive and on Christmas Day to be precise, I was spending time with family. While we were braaing some meat (which most of it was eaten between two of my uncles, myself, my younger brother and cousins even before getting to the kitchen where the main feast preparations were taking place) one of my uncles (a rare combination of inyanga and umfundisi which at times society surprisingly read as opposites) says to me:

Malume: ‘…Yes ancestors are able to project themselves in a physical body’

Mshana: ‘You mean spirit possession?’

Malume: ‘Hhay mshana, I mean someone that has passed years ago visiting this realm in the same body that was known to his family, sometimes wearing clothes that they worn when they were ‘alive’ ’

Mshana: ‘Hhawu’ (note that this is not the English ‘how’ but in iSiZulu it expresses a feeling of shock or surprise)

Malume: ‘There was once a man, he completely disregarded and disbelieved in the existence of ancestors and he taught his family that it was all a myth and never existed. He got old, fell sick and died. In his journey as spirit he realized that he is been living in an illusion. In his travels as spirit he soon found all his relatives that had ‘died’, they were all very unhappy about his disobedience. They instructed him to do a ceremony for them to ask for forgiveness, they also instructed him that part of the ritual was he had to go back and discuss with his family in his physical body. He immediately did as instructed, upon his arrival his family was shocked and all ran away from him. He sat quietly until one on his sons came back, sat and listened to his late fathers story. Soon after the ceremony took place, after all the proceedings he left and went back to his ancestors where he was now accepted…’

Mama: Lunch is served everyone

Mshana: ‘Cha ijulule lendaba Malume’

Translated from iSiZulu

Nduduzo Makhathini

Pieces of a Dream

All is beginning to make sense, sometimes we just don’t pay enough attention.

It was a rainy day, a great master had transitioned. I wanted to be at his interment, but that same day I was traveling abroad and not in a position to change fixed contractual arrangements that I had committed to. It felt as though I didn’t have a choice but to leave, this became a little heavy and I knew it was working against my heart.

Nevertheless, on a long flight reflecting on the moments spent with the master, I fell asleep. I modulated to another realm of consciousness, where perhaps death isn’t possible. We were three; myself, fellow disciple and our master. As we were strangely walking in the sky, unexpectedly mountains appeared too, caves appeared, and all kinds of the things associated with life on the earth (ground) started to emerge.

It seemed as though we didn’t pay much attention to these rather puzzling happenings. Our conversations ranged from the art-of-dying, metaphysics, improvising our way out of this world, the importance of community, future sounds and other interesting topics that were familiar to us on the other side of life when the master was still ‘alive’.

Suddenly a heavy storm came, there was dust all around, there came flying objects that I had not seen before and eventually we lost sight of the master. The wind blew even harder, we tried to rise up to the mountain top, holding onto tree branches but got blown away. Stones were rolling from all sides accompanied by heavy sounds of thunder, it also become very dark.

In no time I was left alone, I become tired of fighting nature forces and I slept to wake up ‘years’ later in a different setting. It was in a dry dessert with so much stillness and as I looked above me, a man that was uncommonly tall stood as if he had been there for a while waiting for me to awake. Feeling very thirsty, I quickly asked him for water and very thoughtfully he responded “there shall be no need for water anymore”.

I then woke up from at least five hours of sleep, and to this day I’m still contemplating on possible meanings to this dream, I’ve told it to some people years ago. Today learned that contemplating in itself is enough and soon interpretations will find me.

– Nduduzo Makhathini [10.05.2011]

STRANGE DREAM

I then arrived in a very strange place with a strange tribe; men blew powder out off their flutes and people died, I ask an elderly man next to me how the people had discovered such a practice. He told me that the same flute could heal too. Although this wasn’t a satisfactory answer to me as I was witnessing such for the first time, nonetheless I continued to listen. He then said, each man’s resurrection relied on his wish upon his death. He continued to say that after being ‘shot’ (by the flute) the ancestors gave each person a grace period on which to utter his wish before he dies. It is in this wish that purpose is derived for ones after/next life.

In the dream I spent a couple of years with this tribe observing and learning about their often ‘supernatural’ powers. On a glorious day arrived a man whom I were told was a virtuoso in playing all different types of flutes. According to the elders this man had lived and traveled around the continent for thousands of years. His duty was to raise the dead. Everyone respected this man, including animals too. When we followed the man I also recall how all kinds of trees and plants would bend to give way when he approached.

Soon we arrived at the kings palace where he began the ritual, playing at graves of the king’s wives during which three rose from their death.

I hope that this man visits again one of these days.

Nduduzo Makhathini

A LITTLE WISH FROM AN IMPROVISOR

Like putting a child to sleep, improvisation is our bridge to the other side. Like a child flies without wings deep in a dream, I hope your souls are elevated during an improvisation. But my biggest dream is for you to never come back when a song stops, like a child never stops flying in her dreams long after the mother stops singing, song carries her over into the mystical worlds. May the notes I play stay with you as you live your life.

Nduduzo Makhathini

African Modes

An African outlook to religion is so communal such that from inception it didn’t have a ‘founder’ but over time was constructed by communities as a way of seeking meanings and purpose to existence. This is also true with our music and art, the aesthetic is composed and further evolves through collective contributions by artists of different times and periods. Our general goal is seeking meanings to the lives we live in relation to all existence.

Nduduzo Makhathini

Essence versus Notions of Modernity

A response to questions about what constitutes my sound and my views on ‘modernity’ (from a post some weeks ago):

Do birds get tired of singing the same song? Do they even know that they are singing or it’s just their way of breathing life to the universe?

I believe that the universe speaks or communicates in a very specific frequency/frequencies… I think our early ancestors understood this better than anybody, singing rain songs and songs for various initiation, rituals and ceremonies – these songs spoke the language of the universe and thus were important tools for co-creation. That’s my view on composition…

Sonic citations just as in citations (izibongo, izithakazelo) in our ritual practices are significant in ensuring the continued afterlife of an ancestor. But they also act as ‘codes’ in unlocking access to other realms of consciousness. This is very evident in eastern religions through ‘ragas’ for instance.

As for me personally, I don’t see myself as a ‘composer’ I’m simply dealing with concoctions (ikhambi) of universal vibrations to channel a healing energy (perhaps metaphysics could be the closest description). The music I deal with is given (or channeled) to me thus not concerned much with man’s ideologies of ‘modernity’ and what that should sound like. So I don’t make an effort to sound a certain way but rather respond to what comes out naturally.

With that said, I also do not have a problem with people that attempt to answer questions of ‘modernity’ through their sounds, I feel it has a lot to do with our individual takes on the concept of time and space.

Thokoza

Nduduzo Makhathini

For Ngqawana

Saw Ngqawana, he was leaning against some old table where the sound system was playing. He faced the opposite direction to me and Ayanda. We were all listening intensely to the Zimology Quartet Live at The Birds Eye record, and to his solo on my arrangement of Afro Blue in particular.

Towards the end of the song, I went to hug him and he turned around. Then there was a newspaper on the floor that he showed to us and it had a quote by him speaking at the ‘Bassline’, the quote spoke about a communal goal and outlook that Zimology Institute carried. After we all read, he then added ‘… I did it for everyone’.

In that same scene Tsoaeli walks in and they started chatting to Ngqawana, and soon walked out again and then soon brought some bank notes to Ngqawana. After that came a different scene; Ngqawana was playing with my kids asking them to spell out different personnel’s on McCoy Tyner’s albums.

Soon here disappeared (Dream, 04 May 2018)

Nduduzo Makhathini

Acknowledging our Sources

I’m greatly fascinated by the ways in which sagacity becomes embedded in our indigenous languages, that perhaps gets lost if we don’t speak them or think within them. For instance in isiZulu (my mother tongue) it is common that if someone offers you food, a gift or shares some wisdom with you – beyond simply saying ‘thank you’ we also further utter these words: ‘makwande lapho uthathe khona’. This saying is both a form of acknowledgement that there is a greater source to all things and a meditation for a continuous circulation of love, gifts, blessings and knowledge…

Nduduzo Makhathini

Flow

Another word for rhythm is flow, it is a space where meanings are produced. The very flow that is evident during a piece of improvisation can be witnessed in homogeneous ways during the throwing of the bones (ukwebhula). Perhaps one could argue that flow/rhythm is a process whereby more than one realms are aligned, a state of synchronicity between our world and the underworlds.

Isa’Ngoma

Nduduzo Makhathini

Sound and Spirituality

A fellow seeker then asked me: ‘But then how do we know that a particular music is spiritual?’ As you can imagine, I didn’t have an answer to his questions. The closest I could think of was; the ways in which certain musics make me feel, or at least my unique responses to it. I also thought, a musical moment can be experienced and interpreted in various idiosyncrasies by individuals, so then my answer was still fairly relative.

Suddenly, in a quiet voice my guide asked me another question: ‘How do we know if it’s raining?’ I paused for a minute thinking that, I would have expected some clarity on the question raised by the seeker as opposed to another from my guide.

After a while I then thought, could there be any connections between these two questions? I also thought could my guide’s question be an answer in itself.

As I wondered in my travels back home I started thinking: ‘The only time music can be spiritual, is when it connects with the cosmic harmonies of the universe. And it is the totality of a musical experience that gets in tune with the music of the spheres.’

Iphupho (13 June 2018)

Nduduzo Makhathini