even more African tribal dances; Shangaan & Makishi dancers & singers

The so called Shonas (named by the Ndebeles) are a mixture of the Ndaus, Karangas, Korekore(kwerekwere). These people  migrated to Zimbabwe from Tanzania (Tanganyika) as the Bantu. They split into many groups , some live in SA, Mozambique and Zimbabwe eg the Shangaan people. The Shangaan are a mixture of Nguni language group which includes Swazi, Zulu and Xhosa, and Tsonga speakers (Ronga, Ndzawu, Shona, Chopi tribes).

Mambuaulela Makhubela & his Shangaan Drum Dancers -Park Station

about Shangaan Dance

In the Shangaan tradition, the storyteller is the grandmother or elder woman of the family who is the respected transmitter of the old stories. The old woman, called Garingani, or narrator, begins her storytelling by saying “Garingani, n’wana wa Garingani!” – “I am Narrator, daughter of Narrator!” after which the crowd cheers “Garingani”. The crowd chants her name after each line of the story.

With a love for music, the Shangaan people have developed a number of musical instruments. The ‘fayi’ – a small, stubby wooden flute that produces a breathless, raspy, but haunting sound, and is often played by young herd boys. The ‘xitende’, is a long thin bow tied on each end by a taut leather thong or wire – which runs across a gourd. This was often used to alleviate boredom on long journeys.

Amakwaya Shangaan Choir

The Shangaan is well known for their mine dances, carried out to the beat of drums and horns and wide variety of musical instruments such as the mbira. Shangaan male dancers performed the muchongolo dance, which celebrated the role of women in society, war victories and ritual ceremonies.

see also previous post Shangaan mine dances at the Witwatersrandmines

about Makishi Dance

As with most African customs, song and dance is crucial to their ceremonies. The makishi are shrouded in secrecy and it is taboo to ask who hides behind the mask. The makishi are spirits that represent the ancestors and they command the utmost respect. The makishi normally appear during the mukanda (circumcision ceremony), then return to their graves immediately afterwards. Their appearance creates an eerie but fascinating atmosphere.

Makishi dancers & singers

Makishi dancers have intrigued and intimidated audiences for centuries. The Makishi attach themselves to the world of spirits and demons and, while dancing, lose their personal identity, becoming the character they portray. The Shangaan, by contrast, are fighters and hunters, boasting of their bravery and strength in vigorous authentic group dancing, stamping their feet on bare earth, raising the dust and rushing at the audience in mock-attacks.

See video Makishi & other dances

A selection of different dances from the Shangaan, Makishi and Nyau tribes.

Musical selections taken from the EP ‘Shangaan Musa’ Gallo FP1 Johannesburg, South Africa.

Pics by Falls Promotion, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Content taken from various sources including the linernotes.

more African tribal dances from the Witwatersrand Gold Mines

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’


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


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


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

about the Nguni Sound

What  really stroke me when listening to these recordings of Nguni music is that the singer is accompanied by just one instrument; the string bow. The emotional effect of this string instrument on the voice is beautiful and unique, intensely haunting. Sometimes the music  reminds me of  American styles like early Jazz, Delta Blues,  Doo-Wop and Negro spirituals…A cappella or unaccompanied group singing without the contemporary instruments.  Different forms of Nguni bringing out the superb South African harmonies…the nquni woman playing the bow copy

umakhweya, a string bow, made from a calabash with an upstanding arm.

Xhosa -Ilizwe lifile kuzimfazwe zadwa

Xhosa -Gealeka -Ndemka Nehlungululwana

Xhosa Ngqika -Inkulu into ezakwenzeka

A bow is held vertically so the opening in the calabash resonator rests high on one side of the player’s chest and can be moved off and on to change the resonance. A bow can be fingered i.e. the string pinched or pressed so it gives a higher fundamental. All bows now used in southern Africa give at least two fundamentals, thus two corresponding harmonic series and it is from these pitches that the scales have arisen

the nquni sound cover

The words are often improvised on the spot, and may touch on several subjects in one song, about domestic or community affairs, the misbehaviour of the young, and often of their husbands who are usually far away working in some big city.

The Zulu Songs of Princess Constance Magogo Kadinuzulu

Princess Constance Magogo Kadinuzulu -Uyephi na (where has he gone?)

this is a lullaby which the singer has often sung to her children and grandchildren to put them to sleep.

Princess Constance Magogo Kadinuzulu -Helele Yiliphi leliyani (which regiment is that?)

A song composed during the reign of Mpande (1840-1872)

The girls in the royal village would watch the impis, the regiments, on parade and remark upon their appaearance dressed in all their Zulu finery.

Which regiment is that so beautifully dressed??

The hissing in the background would be the response made by the soldiers as they sang and marched.

Princess Constance Magogo Kadinuzulu -Umuntu ehlobile singemjabise yini tina (however well dressed this man may be)

this is a girl’s song well known to her contemporaries at the Royal villages in which they demonstrate their right to disapprove of any young man as they are not impressed by fine clothes alone

However well dressed this man may be, we can still refuse him, can’t we?

the nqui sound inside 1

Like all cattle loving peoples of South Africa, Nguni music is almost entirely vocal. The few instruments they do have do not take a central role in any part of life. If the Nguni lack in the typical African instrumentarium they make it up however, in vocal power, in the strength of their melodies and the richness of their harmony. Commentators on South African Jazz and Pop music have sometimes been struck by the affinity of South Africans, and particularly Nguni speakers, with US music forms like Jazz and Doo Wop.  Some would account for this from the largely vocal basis of both forms of music. It is certainly true that South Africa is by far the ‘jazziest’ country on the continent.

Xhosa -Mfengu Unonkala

the nqui sound inside 2

photographs and excerpts from  the  original liner notes of ‘The Nguni Sound’1955-1958 SWP Records SWP 020

Recommended listening

The Nguni Sound –South Africa & Swaziland 1955-57-58  SWP Records SWP 020


The Zulu Songs of Princess Constance Magogo Kadinuzulu by Hugh Tracey

Music of Africa series 37 ILAM