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more African tribal dances from the Witwatersrand Gold Mines

December 2, 2009

YEBO! greetings from South Africa!

I just came back from a few weeks in South Africa where I was on a vinyl  safari throughout the land.  Some real great moments spent this time with a few hunters and  kindred spirits alike and brought back a big selection of rare vinyl and some books as well. Watch these pages the coming months as I will share some of these treasures …

On one of my hunting trips I found this beautiful book with gorgeous photographs by Merlyn Severn. The content is very well documented and researched as the dances have been selected by Hugh Tracey at the Witwatersrand Gold Mines. Hugh Tracey has long been known for his intimate studies of the music, dances and stories of many of the Bantu Tribes of South and Central Africa. His enthusiasm for the art of the genuine African musician, dancer and storyteller was largely responsible for the establishment of the African Music Society.

Merlyn Severn has specialised for many years in the photography of dance action. Her two well-known books on ballet placed her in the front rank of dance photographers in England many years before she visited Africa and collaborated with Hugh Tracey to produce this series of brilliant studies of African mine dances.

African country dances have been transported into the environment of modern industry and undergone a corresponding mutation, but these excellent illustrations convey at once the eternal fascination and sincerity of this age-old recreation,  the most important of  all the African arts.

here is a selection starting with the Mchopi tribe. The Chopi or Mchopi tribe may well be one of the most musical of all Bantu tribes. Their xylophone orchestras have made them famous. The skill with which they make their instruments, the complexities of the dance itself, the excellence of their lyrics, all combine to place their music, poetry and dancing on a plane well above those of most African peoples.

Mchopi tribe -Timbila dance


one of the rattle players or ‘mdoto wanjele’

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there are three distinct dances performed by Xhosa men. The first is done by the Amakwenkwe or youths; the second is danced ritually by the Abakweta, the initiates to manhood; and the third is performed only by the Amadoda, grown men after their initiation and acceptance into full social responsibility.

Amakwenkwe Xhosa tribe -dance for young men accompanied by concertina and whistle

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The Shangaan people are distantly related on their father’s side to the South African Nguni. They are one of the splashes thrown out by the Zulu melting pot of the early 19th century. Today they are a conglomerate of tribes speaking  three or four languages in the Tsonga group all calling themselves ‘Shangaan’.

Amakwaya Shangaan tribe -Makwaya Dance

The song with miming gestures often sung in mine patois, ‘Fanakalo’.

all photographs by Merlyn Severn, excerpts from the book ‘African Dances of the Witwatersrand Gold Mines’ by Hugh Tracey. Published by African Music Society, first edition October 1952

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all musical selections from ‘African Tribal Dances at the Witwatersrand Gold Mines’. CBS ALD 6624


4 comments

  1. […] more: more African tribal dances from the Witwatersrand Gold Mines … distantly-related, father, melting-pot, shangaan, south, splashes, the-splashes, their-father, […]


  2. […] Reef Mine in Johannesburg in 1943. He later paid tribute to the culture of mine dancing in his book ‘African Dances of the Witwatersrand Gold Mines’,  published by African Music Society in  October […]


  3. […] See also my previous post on the Makwaya Dance by the Amakwaya Shangaan tribe […]


  4. […] see also previous posts on Shangaan mine dances at the Witwatersrandmines […]



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