Schools influence music development, taste

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

WE now look at how schools influenced music development and tastes of Zimbabwe’s black community from the late 1930s to about 1970.
Different social cultures have different kinds of songs for different occasions that range from births, throughout stages of maturation, to marriage and, finally, to burial.
In Zimbabwe today, Christian traditions, customs and mores have replaced traditional religion throughout that socio-physical development course of virtually all ethnic communities.
At birthday parties, black families sing the English song ‘Happy birthday to you’, and during weddings, a common piece that features in many parts of Matabeleland and some Midlands localities is the siNdebele ditty ‘Samthatha ebunyameni, samosa ekukhanyeni’.
At funerals, Christian hymns about heaven being everyone’s ultimate resting places are emotionally and repeatedly sung.
That apart, some songs were meant for war, others for field cultivation, threshing of crops and yet some were sung while men were digging mines.
One such song that accompanied the rhythmic up-and-down swinging of picks or muttocks by perspiring men was the siNdebele ‘UBandama wafa kanjani, hiya woye; Wafela emgodini, hiya woye!’
It is no longer common for Zimbabwean men to sing as they labour, especially in or on the mines.
One of the reasons is that, during some past period, the white settler-Government recruited labourers from outside Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) that is, from countries such as Nyasaland (Malawi), Tanganyika (Tanzania), Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Angola, South West Africa (Namibia) and Bechuanaland Protectorate (Botswana).
Those men from such a wide cultural environment could not communicate with one another in an established Bantu language but through ‘Silapalapa’ also called ‘Fanikalo’, a type of pidgin Nguni coined by the Boers of South Africa.
The only recorded music composition in that ephemeral language was: Fanikalo, fanikalo, the Zulu boy will understand! Jim, pheka lonkhuku! Jim, pheka lonkhuku!
It was composed and recorded by socially low-class racist Johannesburg Boers who obviously derived much pleasure from the lord-serf relationship between the domineering Southern Africa’s white settlers and the displaced, dispossessed and exploited black people of that region, all of whose male members they called ‘boys’, whatever their age.
That culturally unique, albeit politically discredited song apart, South Africa’s influence on the Southern Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) black community’s performing arts was spread by black people who studied in that country.
They returned home to teach, and through that, introduced South African stage culture to the country.
Many of them doubled up as evangelists, a role that had a very deep effect on various Zimbabwean communities’ religious music.
The introduction into, and maintenance of, education in the black communities of Southern Rhodesia was a responsibility of various Christian denominations until in the late 1960s when the Rhodesian Front administration gave those responsibilities to municipal councils.
Most denominations had given minimal importance to music as a subject.
It was neither in the curriculum nor was it examinable.
It was, in fact, simply called ‘singing’ and regarded merely as a form of entertainment.
The only denomination that treated singing relatively seriously was the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but mostly for church services only and in connection with vocal production and not with composition of songs.
Vocal production by most of those who spent some reasonable time at Seventh Day centres was and, still is, much refined.
The SDAs teach vocal production on the basis of the well-known five Fs which represent: forward, flowing, firm, full and free.
There have, however, been very successful singers who use their speech voices.
These are denigrated by some professional singers who call them ‘howlers’ because they sing in their natural voices.
A good example of such artistes was Louis Armstrong who sang in his raspy voice.
Mission schools, by and large, taught their pupils or their students how to sing the tonic solfa to enable them to sing church hymns. It depended entirely on individual teachers to what detail the class would be taught tonic solfa. Some teachers explained only that which was a part of the song being taught.
That might be the dynamics, and they were, and are, always in Italian words such as ‘crescendo’ which means get louder, or ‘diminuendo’ which is the opposite of ‘crescendo’ and means get quieter.
Other music dynamics are ‘fortissimo’ which means very, very loud, ‘forte’ loud, ‘sforzando’ which means sing or perform suddenly very loudly, ‘pianissimo’ very quiet, ‘piano’ quiet, ‘mezzoforte’ which means quite loudly.
Very few teachers explained even tempo indicators, and insisted on their being observed.
These are also in Italian, and include such words as ‘allegro’ which means quick and bright, ‘adagio’ which means slow, ‘vivace’ fast and lively, ‘presto’ means very quick, then we have ‘largo’ meaning slow and dignified ‘andante’ means to be sung or played at a walking pace or in a flowing tempo as is the case with the Zimbabwean National Anthem.
A few additional tempo indicators include ‘rubato’ meaning the passage or the song must be played or sung in a flexible tempo.
We also come across the word ‘rallentando’ or just ‘rall’ for short, which means get slower, then we have ‘accelerando’ indicating that the tempo should be faster.
‘Ritenuto’ (rit in short) means hold back, and ‘allegretto’ instructs the performer not to be as quick as when the tempo is ‘allegro’.
Professional composers such as the famous South Africa composers, the late Paul Caluza of Natal, Gladstone Sidyiyo of the Orange Free State, M.M. Myataza would include dynaj.Pmics and interpretive indicators to guide the singers.
Other prominent African composers who featured in the 1940s up to the 1960s were Barrington Phuti of Dombodema in Bulilima District of Zimbabwe, K.D. Seisa of northern Botswana and the highly gifted Lesotho musician, J.P. Mohapeloa.
All these black artistes had been greatly influenced much more, if not entirely, by Christian church music to the exclusion of traditional African singing styles and skills.
They did not employ much, if any at all, of those music dynamics and indicators, instructions that were widely used by Western European music artistes.
Those instructions included words such as ‘legato’ which means the song or a particular part should be performed or sung smoothly; at times the instruction was to be performed in ‘staccato’ which means that it should be handled with particular emphasis or detachment on each syllable.
‘Dolce’ means sweet and soft, and ‘expressivo’ is to perform a piece expressively or with emotion.
Only a few African schools had teachers who were adequately qualified to interpret those three music characteristics, that is to say dynamics, interpretive indicators and tempo indicators.
Tegwane Mission, in the early and late 1940s, had one such teacher, a Mr Treggigo, an Anglo-Italian missionary. He was a choral musician.
During Treggigo’s days at that Wesleyan Methodist institution, some of those who trained there as primary school teachers became quite literate in music.
They went out onto the country’s educational field and made an impact on the music arena.
Kutama Roman Catholic mission was another wonderful exception as it had a well-equipped brass band and an orchestra.
All those who studied there during those years still harbour pleasant memories of the golden performances of the brass band under the professional baton of Brother Augustus and that of the orchestra under Brother George’s no-nonsense guidance.
Among surviving former Kutama students who had an experience of that cultural era are some prominent Zimbabweans who include educationists Professor George Kahari, Stanley Hadebe, Clifford Somkence, Zephaniah Todlana, Nelson Mazibuko, Timothy Dube, Fidelis Mposi, Otto Khumalo and the eminent medical brain Dr Sipho Zwane, the teacher and former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, the author of this cultural account, the litterateur and retired journalist Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu.
Christian church music south of the Sahara has, during the past several decades, become an integral part of the Bantu music culture and has actually elbowed out traditional religious pentatonic genres that have been described as monotonic by some research scholars, including the late Dr Alexander Sandilands whose scholarly work was, however, based on the Afro-American communities.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuva@gmail.com

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