Happy Birthday Bra’ Katse – and thanks for all the music

It’s a sweltering Sunday afternoon in the late 1980s, in an ANC house somewhere in Lusaka, Zambia. Every comrade who’s not on duty is catching up on the week’s chores: washing, ironing, reading, watching football on a beat-up TV. There’s meat on the braai, and a couple of people are trudging back from a shebeen, complaining about the heat, carrying as many cold ones as the house can collectively afford. The mood turns more festive, and somebody puts on a cassette of music from home. But not everybody’s in the mood for dancing – yet. Then the tape reaches the one track nobody can resist: a song that gets everybody up; moving, remembering (and possibly somebody’s crying) – Matswale, from Caiphus Semenya’s 1984 album Streams Today; Rivers Tomorrow. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqPXhdDP-Y8 )


On August 19, Caiphus Katse Semenya turned 80. (On the 23rd, his partner on stage and off, vocalist Letta Mbulu, turned 77. That’s an anniversary equally worth marking, but it needs a story to itself). There have been many tributes, and a grand birthday concert at the Market Theatre. And while the totality of Semenya’s life should be celebrated, one aspect needs to be in the foreground: his composing. In the field of popular song, he has written a significant portion of the great South African Songbook – possibly more than any other single composer. Where America has Jerome Kern, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, we have Caiphus Semenya.

Semenya was born in Alexandra Township in 1939, but later moved to live with his grandmother in Benoni. By 15, he had joined up with three other teenagers to form a close-harmony singing group, the Katzenjammer Kids (the punning title referenced both his name and some popular comic-book heroes). The Kids, still real beginners, entered a talent contest where their performance was so impressive that they were invited to form part of the ensemble for the upcoming jazz opera, King Kong, composed by Todd Matshikiza. There, he met a rising singing star, Letta Mbulu: the start of a lifetime personal and working partnership .

When King Kong went to England in 1961, many of the cast members took their ticket out, seeking opportunities to work and study free from the repression of apartheid. But Semenya and Mbulu, both very young, stayed in South Africa, working with a range of bands and growing their performance skills. It wasn’t until 1964 that their chance to leave came, with the Alan Paton musical play, Sponono.sponono.jpg

Sponono arrived on Broadway to a rough reception: it ran for only two weeks after anti-apartheid protests outside the theatre. Although it was not a pro-regime play, American consciousness about racial segregation at home and abroad was growing; in the same year, civil rights demonstrators picketed the opening of the New York World Fair too. But the couple soon met up with old friends from the King Kong cast, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa among them. Makeba, in particular, helped smooth the way for them to settle in New York.

UnionSemenya didn’t go the college route of his instrumentalist peers, but instead immediately began working with Masekela, Harry Belafonte and others on live and recording projects. In 1966, he composed one of the biggest hits on the trumpeter’s The Emancipation of… album, Ha Lese le di Khanna https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JeFE3ZrI_A . By 1971, the couple had moved to Los Angeles, where the supergroup The Union of South Africa was formed: Semenya, Gwangwa and Masekela. Semenya wrote four of the album’s nine tracks, including Caution (which gave him another nickname) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31XgMgWNpZg. By now, he was also occasionally playing saxophone, though he never saw the instrument as his vocation.

Songwriting and arranging opportunities grew, as did his reputation. As well as working with fellow South Africans, Semenya also collaborated with Belafonte, Nina Simone, Lou Rawls, Herb Albert and more. In 1977, he co-scored the soundtrack of the original Roots television series, based on Alex Haley’s best selling book about his family history under slavery and beyond.Roots

“I really consider myself blessed [to have done that],” Semenya recalled later. “it’s not everybody who particiates at that level, on both sides of the Atlantic, in a story that is a truly African story…If you are spiritual, then you know that certain things in life are not accidents…To write the score I had to read the book, and so I came to really understand what Africans as a people went through…When today we are still being accused of being underdeveloped, when we were actually depopulated, and not by our own doing…People actually systematically underdeveloped us and now they have the audacity sit here and judge us…We dug gold and silver to enrich another people that today sit there and tell us we are underdeveloped.”

In 1985, at Quincy Jones’ request, Semenya co-wrote the score for the film, The Color Purple, for which he shared the 1986 Oscar for Best Original Score; in 1987, he arranged the Swahili chant for Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl on the Bad album, again masterminded by Jones.

StreamsAlongside this solid and respected American career, the popular South African hit songs kept coming: Angelina https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9MCYJ9Oj0Y, Ziph’Inkomo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrWQhnn0Y1o, Nomalangahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY6Oz1QnWuE, Music in the Airhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luOeTylAwJ4, Woman Got A Right To Be https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqObcnhaDqo, Ndiphendulehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXXPrFUB43k and counting.

Matswale is typical, using a framework of African tradition to tell a personal story that many listeners can identify with, over a lilting, languorous beat that compels dancing and an earworm of a hook. A man approaches his mother-in-law for advice because his relationship with his wife is disintegrating. It was written, Semenya said, after a visit to the exiled South African community in Botswana, when he saw how the pressures of that life were causing relationships to fall apart. Oh, and there’s a little chorus in the middle “Bue li Naledi/ Ake le bue li Naledi” – that you just have to join in on.

In 2004, the album A Taste of Caiphus Semenya https://music.apple.com/za/album/a-taste-of-caiphus-semenya/1286794602 saw various artists from Sibongile Khumalo and Yvonne Chaka Chaka to Ringo and Nana Coyote covering Semenya’s classic hits. None of those covers is ‘better’ than Semenya’s original, but the album is the perfect illustration of why his compositions merit attention and praise. Each of them is capable of multiple re-visionings without ever losing its power – the true test of a standard.

And just a final note. When writing this blog I discovered that, disgracefully, and despite his multiple national and international honours, there is no complete online account of Semenya’s life and work; what exists is incomplete and in some cases inaccurate. Like the song says, Not Yet Uhuru. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Js95topeKI Happy Birthday Bra’ Katse – and we can’t possibly thank you enough for all the music. Respect.



Woodstock at 50? Don’t forget there were two

There were two celebrations this weekend of the 50th anniversaries of American music festivals.

Crowd photo
Summer of Love? Woodstock August 1969

The one you’ve all probably read about, was the 50th anniversary of Woodstock: a 1969 rock festival held in Bethel, New York and bringing together artists across genres, from Janis Joplin to Ravi Shankar and Bob Dylan to, perhaps most famously today, Jimi Hendrix. (It was named for Dylan’s then place of residence.) 400 000 people tried to attend – some couldn’t get in, although helpful anarchists eventually tore down a few fences – and by the afternoon of the first day, all roads for 20 miles around the muddy, bowl-shaped farm site were blocked by incoming cars. That festival has had commemorations in plenty, but no ‘official’ 50th birthday event. Co-founder and current owner of the Woodstock “brand”, Michael Lang, couldn’t reach a simultaneously satisfactory agreement with both venue and artists; he dropped the idea and threatened to sue anybody else who picked it up in that precise, branded form.

Jimi Hendrix shreds The Star Spangled Banner

Woodstock is often described as the convergence and culmination of the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s: the protests against the Vietnam War; the push against rigid family and societal roles; the experimentation with mood- and mind-altering drugs; and the African-American civil rights movement.

Some of that, however, represents the rose-coloured spectacles of nostalgia, assisted by Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 movie https://archive.org/details/youtube-tEkVEnsEUWA, because that was the story the film told.

Woodstock, August 1969 – the summer of peace, love, dope and tie-dyed flares – certainly provided a home for many of those social impulses, in the sentiments of the crowd and the lyrics of many of the songs and in plenty of individual experiences. But it’s worth remembering that in the late 1960s “sexual liberation” still often advantaged cis men over anybody else, and – despite Hendrix’s magnificent anti-war shredding of The Star Spangled Bannerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKAwPA14Ni4 , the crowd was overwhelmingly white.

BW crowd
Crowd members at the Harlem Cultural Festival 1969

A far more interesting six-weekend concert series was happening in Harlem over July and August 1969, with a lineup including Sly and the Family Stone ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4dnk5b0wbI ), BB King, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F8Cqp7smwM, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson and more. (Hendrix and Ritchie Havens were the only black Woodstock headliners; Havens also played Harlem.) It attracted more than 300 000 people. The Harlem Cultural Festival has sometimes been dubbed “Black Woodstock” – but it wasn’t a copy; it was entirely its own thing.

Nina Simone plays Harlem 1969

The Harlem Cultural Festival was barely mentioned by international media this week, while the Woodstock anniversary has been universally showcased. However, New York did remember the festival at 50, with a week of seminars and an anniversary concert on August 17th.

Harvard professor of race and public policy, Khalil Mumammad, points out the unease with which, in the still-segregated 60s, African-Americans would have contemplated visiting a white-owned farm in white-dominated rural upstate New York. “The late Sixties has been romanticized with regard to the cultural mixing of the anti-war activists and black freedom activists,” Muhammad told northjersey.com. (https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/columnists/mike-kelly/2019/08/15/woodstock-1969-tried-diverse-crowd-didnt-work-kelly-harlem-cultural-festival/2011323001/) “But the reality is you had pretty clear lines of segregation. The cultural spaces [for integration] were tiny,” whereas the Harlem event represented “ black people needing to celebrate on their own terms.”

That’s not the only difference. Although mismanagement (something herbal in the air?) meant Woodstock didn’t fully realise its potential profits, the festival was a straight commercial initiative. Its co-founders wanted to establish a recording studio and artist stable in the area; the concert was designed to market that idea. The branding disputes that sabotaged this year’s attempt to stage an official anniversary party had their roots right back at the start. Woodstock, you might say, also started the wokewashing of cultural commodities that infests today’s scene.

BW crowds
Grassroots celebration Harlem 1969

The Harlem series was organised from the grassroots up, by community groups, churches and black political formations. When the City refused, the Black Panthers provided security. There were two deaths even at that first peace-and-love Woodstock. Nobody died at the Harlem events.

Hindsight isn’t always 20:20 vision: sometimes you’ll find white blotches on the lenses. And at a time when 50s-style racism and sexism are on the rise again in America and the world, we need to be sure we read all the histories, not just the hegemonic one.

History of South African music: must-read

So far our knowledge of early South African music has been limited; we tend to think that drums, bows and pipes are as far back as it goes. Read this fascinating article from today’s Conversation to learn that as the earliest visual symbolism and patterning were being developed, so was our music!

Michael Blake and the local invisibility of South African concert music

Composers South Africa’s Michael Blake and Tanzania’s Justinian Tamusuza on a panel at Stellenbosch in February 2019

The shameful local media neglect of South African jazz is something I’ve discussed too often before. There are no reviews, and no previews of anything but the most commercial of events, which can be monetised by selling advertising alongside. Even the upcoming Joy of Jazz – a huge event with an interesting line-up featuring local innovators and international stars – has been dealt with largely through truncated reprints of its own press releases. But at least that’s something. The profile of jazz doesn’t fare too badly when you compare it with the invisibility of some other genres – in particular, South African concert music.

I’m deliberately not using the term “classical”. That term is freighted with way too much baggage. “Classical” music is, strictly, the stuff written by European men in powdered wigs, brocade waistcoats and knee-britches between 1750 and 1830. In popular usage it’s been extended to cover music written by variously-attired European men up to around the end of the Nineteenth Century. (Ignore that Mozart and Mendelssohn both had esteemed musician sisters see https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/sep/08/lost-genius-the-other-mozart-sister-nannerl. Ignore that composers George Bridgetower and Samuel Coleridge Taylor were black see https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/who-was-samuel-coleridge-taylor-what-famous-for/ . Ignore that analogous ‘classical’ settings of court patronage and paradigms for composition and performance also existed elsewhere, for example in the historic kingdoms of East Africa, see https://www.swp-records.com/music/008/royal-court-music-from-uganda )

‘Concert’ or ‘recital’ music are far more useful terms, because they also don’t relegate the genre to a past historical era, but are informative about the contexts where it is played and heard.

There’s far more contemporary South African-composed concert music around than you might suspect. Pianist Paul Hanmer’s https://paulhanmer.wordpress.com/works/ website for example (which hasn’t even been updated for a while), lists more than a score of compositions for that, rather than his jazz context. Another composer, Clare Loveday  creates workhttp://clareloveday.co.za/compositions.html that, like Hanmer’s, , is now performed worldwide.


Hanmer and other black concert composers such as Samora Ntsebenza, Lloyd Prince and Sibusiso Njeza might not have grown in that direction without work at the early editions of South Africa’s New Music Indaba in Makhanda, whose architect was another internationally feted South African composer, Cape Town-born Michael Blake http://www.michaelblake.co.za/biography. Blake himself, currently a member of the Africa Open Institute at Stellenbosch University, released a new recording recently: The Philosophy of Composition, with cellist Freidrich Gowerky and pianist Dean Vandewalle https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/products/8432734–michael-blake-the-philosophy-of-composition .

Follow the links to compositions by Blake, Loveday, Hanmer or others and you’ll rapidly realise that contemporary concert music has an astonishingly broad sound palette: acoustic and electronic, melodic and atonal, lush and arid – or bits of all of these. Somewhere, you’ll probably find music you like. For example, Blake’s track A Fractured Landscape (in memoriam Edward Said) recalls the African roots of some piano-precursor keyed instruments with its interlocking introductory patterns. By the end, it feels as if it’s referencing the Romantic composer Brahms, in allusion to Said’s book On Late Style. But, comments sleeve-note writer Stephanus Muller, the tensions in the music give neither element a comfortable home: “It is a music of exile”, just as Said’s life as a Palestinian-American was. The closing track Seventh Must Fall has the musical motif of a falling seventh, but an inescapable, implicit subtext about the possibilities for beauty-in-change that open when things (a musical idiom, fees, Rhodes…) fall.

Nobody knows what they’ll like until they get the chance to hear it, and prophets are rarely honoured in their own country. The point of this post was not only to share news of a recording of South African music that I enjoyed greatly, but to ask why access to this kind of music – and even to news about it – is so limited. Isn’t that the kind of responsibility that the SABC, our national broadcaster, due shortly to receive more wads of rescue cash, should be accepting? Couldn’t covering every area of South African music be one of the conditions for those wads of cash?

Genesis of a Different World: Steve Dyer’s sonic lexicon of change

Ask multi-instrumentalist/ composer Steve Dyer if the title of his latest album, Genesis of a Different World (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/stevedyer3 ) isn’t just a little bit New Age-y and you’ll get a very definite no.

album cover“The title refers to an alternative option for growth, not to a misty ‘one new world order’. A New Age-y viewpoint might be that with a magical wave of a wand [the] world will somehow become a better place. But the wealthy, greed-driven, powerful and dictatorial [forces] aren’t going to disappear in a hurry. Instead, increasingly they are being and will be held to account. And in the long term an unsustainable system can’t survive in its present form.”

Dyer will launch the music from Genesis…at the Joburg Theatre, with shows on August 2 and 3 (https://www.joburgtheatre.com/steve-dyer-genesis-of-a-different-world-info/ ).

The album features Dyer on assorted reeds, guitar, keyboards, voice and effects, alongside trumpeter Sithembiso Bhengu, bari player Sisonke Xonti, bassists Amaeshi Ikechi and Romy Brauteseth, pianists Bokani Dyer and Thandi Ntuli and drummers Leagan Breda and Lungile Kunene. On stage, the format will be similar, though with artist availability demanding some adjustments: Ntuli is replaced by David Cousins on keyboard, Brauteseth isn’t on stage and S’phelelo Mazibuko is the second drummer.

But both teams, and the way they work together, point towards what Dyer sees as the “people first” engine of a different world. “Jazz – or rather ‘improvised music’ has a distinct social code of togetherness,” he says. “In Africa, this is more pronounced – it falls within what risks being a cliched social philosophy: Ubuntu.” But for Dyer, it’s no cliché.

“Many of the ideas in the album started with me presenting Thandi, Amaeshi and Lungile with the challenge of how we can present ourselves as artists with unique sets of life experiences. How I relate to them as people before musicians, and how they relate to each other is integral to the creative process. These young players are open, so with Genesis.. I’ve not been afraid to bring any of my influences to the surface, and they run with them.” Dyer talks admiringly of how his co-players, thorough their musical journeys “are questioning and driving change in their own ways. For example, when Amaeshi first came to South Africa he called himself Sam and was very competently copying musicians he admired. But hear now the confidence he has in expressing himself and playing the unconventional…”

Amaeshi Ikechi

For those familiar with Dyer’s earlier work and albums, there are both continuities and contrasts. The composer’s gift for instantly infectious melodies remains – but on this album, with more improvisation and longer tracks, it becomes a springboard for extended and inventive expression. The catchy tunes are journeys rather than destinations.

And those journeys are very deliberate. The rhythms, textures and instrumental voices of all eight tracks, not just the guiding ideas, enact politics. Dyer’s compositions and arrangements constantly seek an appropriate sonic language, and he’s articulate about how that works for him.

His motivation for the title track, for example, was “We need a different world. That very small percentage with tremendous monetary wealth is getting wealthier. Many of those without, are continually marginalised…human greed continually tramples on the wider human condition…so the music demands that concepts of dignity, equality, freedom and liberation be firmly embedded in human consciousness, not in the cosmetic corridors of speech-writers and academic policy formulators.” To enact that message, Dyer created a track that “moves through many different places – different textures: storotoro (jaws harp) pedal, voice used as an instrument, kalimba with two drummers, contemporary loop – building to an ending with an urgent sax solo…”

Zimasa Mpenyama Lungile
Lungile Kunene

In his work with Mahube (for example, the 2018 album Zenzele https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzUKEJv-R6oLnFLavKiX7lA, Dyer has foregrounded the groove and dance-led aspects of African community musics (the term ‘traditional’ can be misleading). Here, indigenous voices sound in far more varied ways. Percussion piano asserts the African roots of an instrument often claimed as an exclusively Western invention: “[It] has been the mainstay of Western music for so long. I wanted a different sound from it.” On Bhaca Blue , the rhythm’s affinity with Xhosa music was identified by a friend; Ntuli crafted the chant vocal and radio jazz commentator Brenda Sisane said the tune was reminiscent of ring-dances around a fire. Those collective connotations inspired in Dyer the thought that “Bob Marley says ‘In this great future you can’t forget your past’…the question for me is : what is my past – what should be forgotten and what remembered?”

Such explorations have produced an album that may surprise listeners more used to Dyer’s other stage identities. The music takes risks in its juxtaposition of textures, patterns and voices, and in its travels from easy tunes in improvisations that take Trane journeys from their anchoring harmonies. There’s spirit and skill in the playing, and in the empathy with which players investigate each other’s ideas. And Dyer’s flute-playing, in particular, shows an adventurousness  that hasn’t been quite so well showcased before, especially in the Miles Davis homage Selim Sivad (read it backwards). “Miles,” says Dyer, “was never willing to stay in one place for long…”

SteveDyer sees the genesis of a different world in many places: the new accessibility of information (“My mother used to be my Google, now any information is a computer-click away”) and the youthful groundswell of “assertion of identity and recognition that change needs decisive action.” Now he is seeking ways his musical ideas “can be taken up by people in creative fields other than music; I’d welcome that.” But that process starts with the sounds – and Genesis of a Different World presents sounds that are by turns, surprising, richly beautiful and thought-provoking.

Hamba Kahle Johnny Clegg

Struggle days

It should not have escaped your notice that singer, guitarist, composer, anthropologist and activist Johnny Clegg died yesterday, aged 66. Clegg’s life was remarkable for the way that a no-boundaries interest in guitar music drew him into a deep personal and later scholarly immersion in Zulu culture – and how he built on that to speak tirelessly to the world against South Africa’s destructive divisions during the struggle against apartheid. This playlist https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/entertainment/2019-07-17-watch-more-than-just-music-heres-why-mzansi-loved-johnny-clegg/ serves as a reminder of some of his best-loved songs, and you’ll find comprehensive obituaries in almost every newspaper today. He continued to study and publish on the music, and to compose and tour for the rest of his life, until pancreatic cancer forced him to dial back his relentless work schedule. Clegg won accolades for his music and his campaigning, not only in South Africa but overseas, where the French media were responsible for the soubriquet by which he became best known thereafter: “the white Zulu”. Hamba kahle to a courageous and talented artist.


Mantombi Matotiyana: Songs of Greeting, Healing and Heritage resound

Philippi has been in the news for all the wrong and most tragic reasons recently. In that context of media stereotyping, it’s too easy to forget that – despite longstanding neglect, unemployment and desperation – the people of Philippi continue to survive, live and create.download

One remarkable example is Philippi’s Samora Machel resident, 86-year-old uhadi (resonator bow), umrhube (mouth-bow), isitolotolo (jaws harp) virtuoso and composer Mantombi Matotiyana, who launched her debut album as leader in June. Songs of Greeting, Healing and Heritage is the first CD on the label of the Africa Open Institute of Stellenbosch University (https://aoinstitute.ac.za/launch-of-cd-songs-of-heritage-hope-and-healing-by-mantombi-matotiyana/ ).

Look for Songs of Greeting…(the title is both descriptive and an allusion to her clan name) on the shelves or in the online stores of South African music retailers and you won’t find it. Look for reports of the launch on media ‘arts and entertainment’ pages, and you won’t find much beyond this breathtakingly disrespectful and patronising reference from IOL on 6 April. Headlined “Philippi gogo to release her debut…” the story continues: “She may walk with a stick every day but when the music hits, 86-year-old Mantombi Matotiyana can jive and groove with the best of them…” Apparently un-fact-checked, the story confuses a debut as leader (which the album is) with a recording debut (which it isn’t) and within two short paragraphs gives the musician’s age as both 83 and 86.left-facing.jpg

That’s pretty typical of the treatment the musical traditions of black communities and their players receive from the media those communities are expected to pay for and read.

Matotiyana was born in Jenca location, Tsolo District, in the Eastern Cape in 1933, learned her instrumental skills from her mother and other senior women of her community, and was a regular participant in traditional divination ceremonies and other gatherings. She says: “These instruments were played by women. Uhadi was played at night. Players would wait for people to sleep before playing but we were woken up by those sounds. This one (pointing to umrhubhe) was played even by us children. In order to come back from shops immediately when we were sent to buy sugar and tea, we would be asked to play it on the way. It was important to come back quickly as our mothers would be waiting for tea.”

She moved to Cape Town in search of an economic future, settling first in Nyanga and later Philippi. She ran a small butchery, sold craft-work, but eventually found that beer-brewing provided a more reliable income than music – although she still sometimes played and sang for neighbours.

right facingIn her own words to her launch audience last month; “I started brewing mqombothi (traditional beer) for a living. I was not playing the instruments anymore and I had forgotten about them… I had a feeling that [music] was not going to give me quick returns, it was going to be a long process and yet with my beer, I knew I had food every day… Dizu (Plaatjies of Amampondo) approached me and asked me to play, something I flatly refused because I enjoyed and was satisfied with brewing the beer. He persuaded me, and I finally agreed and stopped brewing the beer… I stopped selling the beer. I started travelling the world on an airplane – an exciting adventure!”

As the partnership with Plaatjies developed, as well as South African and international tours, Matotiyana featured on Amampondo’s 1992 album An Image of Africa https://music.apple.com/bm/album/an-image-of-africa/214535858 and the Dizu Plaatjies Ibuyambo Ensemble 2009 album African Kings https://music.apple.com/lu/album/african-kings/327528676 as well as with the Danish Nightingale Quartet in The Bow Project tour in 2009. (She had participated in the project’s 2003 pilot.) The Bow Project had been conceived as a tribute to the music of another virtuoso traditional musician, the late Nofinishi Dywili. Its originator was composer Michael Blake. Matotiyana also featured as soloist on Blake’s 2013 composition Ukhukhalisa Umrhube, which premiered in France, and Blake was executive producer for Songs of Greeting

+ Michael
With Michael Blake (l) in France

The album has 13 tracks, a dozen songs plus a five-minute interview with the artist. The songs mix traditional refrains, her own original lyrics and melodies and one, Majola, by Plaatjies. The sound foregrounds Matotiyana’s voice and instruments, empathetically augmented on some tracks by the voices of Plaatjies, Ernie Koela and Hope Mongwegi. The lyrics are grounded at once in lived experience and metaphor, as in Wachiteka Umzi Wendoda – about a burnt house and homelessness, or Wen’useGoli, about the ‘cold love’ faced by the migrant worker away in Johannesburg.

The lyrical themes – as informative sleeve notes by Ncebakazi Mnukwana explain – deal with ‘home’ as a physical place layered with home as a place of spiritual bereftness or healing.

And the sound is gorgeous. Often, the recording equipment finds singers like Matotiyana only as their vocal prime is fading. But her voice remains strong, her phrasing clear, and her sense of ornament – that “salt in the song” that characterises and energises Xhosa music – entrancing. “These instruments,” she told the launch, “make me happy. I started playing them when I was young and grew up playing them. Even when something is bothering me, I play and they uplift my spirit. I am very passionate about them. (lit: they come from my heart.)”

Fans of ‘world’ music or roots South African sounds won’t need any urging to seek out Songs of Greeting, Hope and Heritage. But if you don’t know the genre yet, it is worth exploring simply for its musical beauty and capacity to move you. It offers a counter-narrative to stereotypical notions of community music as ‘simple’ (“grooving and jiving with the best of them”, as IOL put it), in the risks it takes and the complex musical intelligence it embodies. Like the music of Magogo ka Dinizulu, it also reminds us that once you step outside the white, male academy, some of the most inventive of South Africa’s musicians were – and are – women. One antidote to the harsh horrors of Philippi may be found here, although, as Matotiyana says: “it seems that our children don’t like this music that much. They will say, ‘Grandmother, this is outdated. We want to watch TV.’ It is my wish though that they learn this music, that there be places to teach them because we are aging now. I want them to learn the music, without abandoning the new things they are also studying.”