Zulu male traditional singing

  • David Rycroft School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Abstract

One of the oddest and loudest forms of African noise to be heard nightly in some of the larger South African towns is described by its makers as ‘Zulu Male Traditional Singing’. This is their polite (and inaccurate) description of it when speaking to non- Zulus. Such singing, by small, all male, choirs and the restrained kind of strutting dance or slouch which goes with it is, however, a new tradition, if the term ‘traditional’ is to be allowed. Amongst the singers themselves it is called ‘Bombing’, a term coined during the war, as they felt it was just that kind of noise. The conductor demands of each of his seven or eight choristers an unflinching, hypnotic gaze, and executes vigorous and precisely timed signals, both manual and vocal, for the attack of each choral yell. Explosive fortissimo chords result. Their harmonic structure is largely open fourths and fifths, upper parts being rendered in ear-splitting coloratura falsetto. While barbarous to European ears, Zulu tribal elders of the older generation find such ‘town music’ equally foreign by their standards.
Published
1957-11-30