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All About Jazz: South Africa

South African Jazz: Glossary

By Published: April 19, 2004

mbaqanga - From the Zulu word for a African maize bread, which became derogatory slang. Sometimes called "township jive." A dance music which evolved in South African townships and became broadly popular in the '60s and '70s. Vocal groups such the Manhattan Brothers, the Skylarks, and Malathini & the Mahotella Queens popularized their vocal version of the mbaqanga sound. Usually includes guitars and bass, often brass, atop cascading rhythms. Mbaqanga remains a dominant force in the music of South Africa today, incorporated into both jazz forms and popular music.

mbube - A range of choral musics combinging Zulu-Swazi forms with the sounds of African church choirs. Mbube was a mixture of Zulu-Swazi, European, Afrikaans, and Afro-American styles. Favored by migrants in the '40s and '50s.

shebeen - Gaelic term meaning "little shop," coined by early Irish policemen in Cape Town. Illegal establishments which sold alcohol (in various home-brewed forms, known as "utshwala" or "kaffir beer"; as well as the more colloquial "isikilimikwiki," or "kill me quick") to black South Africans. Early in the 20th century, the South African government attempted to control access to beer by establishing a monopoly on the product and specifying that it could only be consumed in municipal beer halls. Shebeens, often held in black homes and usually sponsored by women, were the underground answer to this and similar decrees. They featured entertainment in the form of music and musical theater, as well as (of course) dancing (and services). Shebeen performers were classified by the South African government as "vagrants" and thus denied professional status. The shebeens were a frequent site of underground political activity.

slumyard - The term used to describe areas where African workers were housed early in South African urban development. The distinguishing feature of a slumyard (as opposed to a slum) was that it existed on land owned by whites, essentially in their backyard. Slumyards were notoriously terrible places to live, but they also brought about an ironic sense of community among their densely- packed residents.

stokfel - These loosely-structured social groups (whose name derives from early cattle trading fairs known as stockfairs) exemplify ubuntu in their organization. Each member invests in a general fund of money and effort, and the proceeds are shared equally among members of the collective. These groups, often organized by women, also play a role in preserving traditional healing arts and rituals, especially musical performance.

township - Urban residential areas which housed African workers disenfranchised by the Group Areas act of 1950. Rentals only; this term does not include freehold or slumyard areas.

ubuntu - A Zulu word, literally meaning "humanness." Ubuntu is a social and spiritual philosophy serving as a framework for African society. Its essential meaning can be conveyed using the Zulu maxim "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu"—meaning, in essence, "a person is a person through other persons." The practice of ubuntu is fundamentally inclusive, involving respect and concern for one's family and one's neighbors. It also implies respect for one's ancestors, in a deeper spiritual sense. Ubuntu defines the individual as a component of a greater (inclusive) collective whole, and it stresses social consciousness and unity. (Most dramatically, ubuntu stands diametrically opposite to the concept of apartheid.)



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