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Traditional Music - South Africa

Updated on May 31, 2013
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Martie Coetser is a freelance writer from South Africa. She has a keen interest in a variety of topics.


To understand traditional music one needs at least an idea of prehistoric and ancient music, which are periods included in the curriculum of Music Archaeology. In order to appreciate this article we only need to know a few important facts or hypotheses.

Music is all about sound and rhythms. Its main purpose is to evoke strong emotions and to change and/or establish our moods and states of mind. We can but only imagine how it was utilized in ancient times as a form of intentional emotional manipulation.

In prehistoric time music were produced by the human voice and mouth, and the clapping of hands and the stamping of feet. In the course of time flutes and pipes of bones and reeds were added, as well as drums and percussion instruments of all kinds.

To root the traditional music of Africa in prehistoric and ancient times, I start this presentation with the traditional rhythm and sound of the Celts and the Goths.

Celtic Drum Beats (the bodhrán)

(Celtic) The Chieftains - O'Sullivan's March (With pipes)

(Gothic) Amazonia fusion, drum solo - Haalima 'Vampire solo'

And now the beat of Africa:

African Percussion

Oldest African drumming footage ever

South Africa

In South Africa, the homeland of many Nguni (including Zulu and Xhosa) and Sotho tribes, distinctive beats are recognizable.

The well known "The Lion Sleep Tonight" was originally a Zulu song called Mbube (lion). According to folklore the song was sang when Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the most influential king of the Zulu's, had died on 22 September 1828 at the age of forty-one. (He had been assassinated by his half-brothers Dingana and Mhlangana.)

Read more about Shaka at

Pata - Pata - another well-known and famous Zulu song by Miriam Makeba -

A very popular isiZulu lullaby, Thula thu, Thula Baba (isiZulu Lullaby) performed by Gretel Coetzee

('isi' is an isiZulu prefix meaning 'the language of',

while the Basotho use the prefix 'se'.)

Just for the sake of interest:

  • The baSotho speak seSotho and they live in leSotho.
  • The amaZulu speak isiZulu and they live in KwaZulu.

Thula Baba

Thula Thu - English lyrics

isiZulu Traditional: Thula thu, Thula Baba,

Hush, little man, hush, child of mine
Daddy is coming in the morning
Hush, my child, hush, my son
Hush, Daddy is coming from the mountains

We will be here, as the saying goes -
They were saying; come back home
We will be here, as the saying goes -
I say come back, my child, come to your home

Hush, hush, my son
Hush, hush, my little man
Hush, hush, my child
Hush, hush, my little man

The style of the amaXhosa (also a Nguni tribe) is different - Keep in mind that dances are not merely dances. They are STORIES - every move has a specific meaning.

Ubuhle Be Afrika Entertainers cc.: Xhosa Dance

The style of the Basotho also differs from the other tribes.

Basotho music:

The next song is a modern version of a very popular folk song of the Ndebele people (a Nguni tribe). The song originated in Zimbabwe, but was sang so frequently by Ndebele male migrant workers while they were working in South African mines that it is regarded today by many as South Africa's second national anthem.

A Hit: Shosholoza (Modern Version)

Then the white DUTCH people arrived in 1654, staunched Protestants thoroughly Christianized who consider their Goth heritage as heathenish. In the beginning of the 19th century their music and dances are prim and proper, but still condemned as sin by the Church.

Boeremusiek (Afrikaans Country Music)

In the meanwhile many genres, such as pop, rock and soul, had been developed with great success as typical South-African music, but for this hub we stick to the traditional folk songs. Today’s ‘folk songs’ are popular sing-a-longs, many of them with their own line-dancing movements.

(Afrikaans) Kurt Darren: Loslappie (man/woman not committed to a partner)

And now to get this all together into a national anthem!


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