Maskandi Music from South Africa – One man’s story

Maskanda or maskandi is a Zulu folk kind of music, which has evolved and has become big in South Africa. In Durban they called it ‘‘The music played by the man on the move, the modern minstrel, today’s troubadour.” It is the music of the man walking the long miles to a bride or to meet with his chief; a means of transport. I mean even when I go home to KZN (KwaZulu Natal) and most taxis play this music from Johannesburg to KZN and trust me, we don’t get tired of it. For some reason I like to believe that because of its vibrancy and energy it breathes it helps keep the driver awake for those hours we are on the road. Maskandi music tells us of many stories of our society, about one’s view of life and personal experiences. This style of music is distinguished by an instrumental flourish (izihlabo) that sets the tone at the beginning of each song, in a picked guitar style and rapidly spoken section of Zulu praise poetry, called “izibongo“.

The content is not always praise, though, and with pop, house and other influences colouring maskandi it has become more about the story telling ethic and the modern migrant culture, than simply about the musical style. Our music has become a trend even DJs are sampling it for parties and clubs. Most people have a copy or two of maskandi music in their cars or at home and for different reasons. People often want to be classified as Zulu even when they are not, they want to fit in probably because our race is very dominant. It is amazing just how diverse maskandi music is within KZN alone due to our small differences of accents in song and dance. If you watch a concert with maskandi musicians alone you would notice difference in every presentation when it comes to singing and dancing and you will love it. There are songs that when they play I feel so proud and comfortable being a Zulu and would not trade it for anything. If there is any music genre and style that could have represented the Zulu nation better except Isicathamiya its maskandi.

My father was a guitarist, unfortunately he passed before he could teach me how to play it. Now I am a pianist and God knows how much I always wanted to learn how to play a guitar. As far as who is the biggest name right now in the industry it’s hard to tell because most radio stations are modern dominated, meaning they mostly play jazz, kwaito, house, R&B etc. Few stations that are traditionally based do play deep African tunes; Late Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Thokozani Langa (who sounds like Bhekumuzi Luthuli in most of his first albums), Amageza Amahle, Ithwasa lami (Mtshengiseni Mkhwanazi), Shabalala Rhythm, Imithente, Amashayina, Phuzekhemisi and many more like Bhekumuzi Luthuli’s son.

By Siphiwe Nkabinde

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