Bayeza 2017 – 10and5 Top 10 celebrates 10 individuals and collectives through the lens of exchange and dialogue; intergenerationally and between peers. In this Bayeza instalment, we chat to members of music collective Found at Sea – Gugulethu Duma and Qhawekazi Giyose – about collaboration, intergenerational dialogue and their shared reverence for their musical elder, Madosini.
“I love it when young people want to learn about this music. It is not mine – it’s God’s music that deserves to be preserved and shared. It can’t die with me,” says legendary traditional Xhosa musician Latozi Mpahleni – better known as Madosini Manqina or simply Madosini.
Born in a village called Mqhekezweni in the Eastern Cape, Madosini began singing, composing music, and making indigenous instruments at an early age. When she was 12 she fell ill and spent much of her time cultivating a love for her craft, which has remained with her throughout her life. She is now 95 years old and one of a few remaining artists of her generation carrying the torch for the genre.
Last year the iconic multi-instrumentalist was introduced to Qhawekazi Giyose and Gugulethu Duma, young Xhosa musicians from East London who together form musical duo Found at Sea and whose sound is rooted in Xhosa traditionalism. The meeting followed after a performance by Madosini at the Drawing Room in Observatory, Cape Town and sparked a heartfelt bond between the experienced elder and up-and-coming singer-songwriters.
The duo recently completed a month-long mentorship with Madosini, who passed down to them musical practices and wider cultural knowledge. They were taught to play and handcraft indigenous Xhosa instruments: the Uhadi and Umrhubhe musical bows. These string instruments create the musical scale which forms the basis of much of Madosini’s music. “Our experience of her quickly became us spending quality time with our grandmother. And having her tell us stories and teach us as much as she can about all she knows,” Gugu says.
The duo are collaborating with different instrumentalists to record pieces of music that have come out of this month’s experience. They plan to release an EP on Heritage Day in September.
We talk to Gugulethu and Qhawekazi about Madonsini, mentorship and music, plus the duo premiere a teaser of their first single, plus stills from an upcoming documentary.
How did your relationship with Madosini begin?
Qhawekazi: Our relationship with Madosini began once we reached out to her after an incredible show she did at The Drawing Room in Observatory some time last year. Individually we’d been interested in her music and looking through archives of Southern African indigenous music at International Library of African Music. Then the night of the gig we spoke to her and suddenly she was that much closer to us. How often does someone you’ve always wanted to meet and connect with give you her number and say, “yeah, call me”? Our conversation started at the beginning of this year when we called her and said, “Okay Makhulu, we love you and we are ready. We’ve done the ground work and we would be honoured if we could learn from you.”
Could you talk a bit about your relationship to music?
Qhawekazi: We are fascinated with our own traditional music but also still feel like we do not know as much as we would like to know because: colonialism, confusion and contradiction.
Gugulethu: And we’ve found that curiosity answered through Madosini.
What is it about the iconic artist that you admire?
Qhawekazi: We just admire her very authentic Xhosaness. Madosini refused to adapt unless it served her. She didn’t feel the need to adapt to modern life, or learn how to use a smartphone or go outside her beliefs but still finds a way to engage with that world and the people of that world, and explore and acknowledge how those spaces have their strengths.
Gugulethu: Her story as well; and the significance of the instruments in her life and playing uHadi way before her time all form part of this extraordinary identity. Uhadi instrument was reserved for the elders. uMrhube was played by youngsters, but she would break and rebuild uMrhube deep into her adult years at night, when nobody was awake because it kept coming back to her in her dreams. Her mom taught her uHadi after she fell ill and wasn’t able to walk and play like the other children. Back then, if you were disabled in any way, not only were you not able to play with other children but you were deemed unmarriable. Her mom gave her this gift and told her she may not find love, but that now – she will always have music.
What was your time with your mentor like?
Gugulethu: Initially we were nervous, naturally. But she put us at ease very quickly. We also realised the severity of whitewashing. We could not stick to the strict dialogue of isiXhosa. But she was always able to hear, guide us and help us clarify our messages and intentions.
Qhawekazi: We were also in awe of how she would always extend herself and speak to us through her music. She would pick up the instrument and share a song to emphasize a point. We experienced all of those moments as very spiritual, a feeling of being at the right place at the right time. We learnt so much about ourselves, about the world, about God, about plants, purpose, identity and unravelling uncertainties around being Black, Xhosa women in South Africa today. She’d reassure us that we didn’t need intsimbi or imibaco to explore or preserve.
You are making a film to document your mentorship with Madosini. Please tell us more.
Qhawekazi: It started out as very basic; wanting to document it for archival purposes and to transcribe the lessons until Ayanda Duma, a photographer and film student, stated that she’d like to make this documentary.
Gugulethu: The crew then fell into place, which made it possible for us to tell this story. We are three women now doing the work of a ten man crew with the assistance of a wonderful sound engineer, Swakhile Mawasha and set design and art assistance from Duduza Mchunu. Ayanda has always been a big part of the dreaming process as well as the music making journey from a young age. She was the first person I made music with, so it only made sense for her to be the one to put a lens on it. We plan on releasing the film on the 9 August at Black Filmmakers Festival in Cape Town, in celebration of Women’s Day.
Songwriting is such an intimate process. What was your creative process composing music together with Madosini like?
Gugulethu: it is such an intimate process, but felt a lot more effortless than past approaches. There was definitely less of an attachment to outcome, as we were so consumed in the melody and rhythm of the moment.
Qhawekazi: She spoke a lot about being able to sing and create chants and letting four [musical] lines be enough to tell a story. We were free and not attached to changing chord progressions. She helped us find the core of ourselves to be able to make sounds from this fearless place. She made us feel safe and proud of ourselves for being able to allow the song to shape itself as it emerges.
Tell us about the indigenous musical instruments you learnt to play and build. What was the learning process like? How do you decide on instrument choice with a song?
Gugulethu: The learning process was incredibly organic and very hands on. She would tell us her history and experiences with the instrument, teach us how to play it, explain the resonant chambers, then teach us how to build from there.
Qhawekazi: One of her nieces missioned to eMampondweni to fetch the branches and calabashes, and together we stripped the bark off, bent and built the instruments and just jammed. The song would be birthed from whichever instrument we were playing in that moment.
Can you tell us about your first single?
Gugulethu: It’s called Go To Sleep. The song is inspired by two lullabies: one in English by Tune Yardz and one in isiXhosa by Sibongile Khumalo. It is our only song in English so far and was born from one of the first rhythms we played on the Uhadi.
Do you have any advice for young songwriters interested to learn more about indigenous music culture?
Qhawekazi: The elders want to teach us, and the lessons are profound.
Gugulethu: Find the person who speaks to your soul, find the voice or instrumentalist – and reach out to them, go see a show, send them a Facebook message, find their number. It’s not as daunting and as inaccessible as we think.
Why do you feel that cross-generational dialogue is important to take part in as young creative South Africans?
Gugulethu: It’s important because we’re at a very exciting place, where we’re all aware of the oppressive norms of history – a history written by someone who was detached or outside of the subject they were writing about. This consciousness is inspiring and the power of translating it, and speaking directly to the source is out of this world. It’s like going into a time machine, and mirroring each other’s experience in a different time and place – and tapping into a future you, while the elder speaks to a younger version of themselves.
Photography: Gabriella Achadinha
Video still courtesy of Found at Sea