Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A review by our It Has to Be Jazz Kalanga Expert Laya Siwawa-Ndai
Zana Cultural Music Review

As a 30 something year old cosmopolitan who spent most of her life exploring the corners of the world in search of adventure, and revelling in other cultures, I have now been on a journey to getting more in touch with my roots. And as always, there is a power beyond us working to set us on a path to the things our hearts desire most.

Covid disseminated so many things, but it did grant me an opportunity and blessing to be able to move back home and to spend time with the people I love, and to become more intimate with my Kalanga heritage; the things that tethers my soul to this beautiful land and my people.

Our cultural heritage is steeped in both intangible and tangible manifestations. The tangible being artefacts, buildings or landscapes and the intangible includes voices, values, traditions, oral history which are popularly expressed through cuisine, clothing, forms of shelter, traditional skills, technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling. And the most beautiful part is that today both these forms are inextricably bound. And for this reason, it is so encouraging to be able to see many individuals driving the preservation of both the tangible and intangible.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a download link to an album entitled Usilile by Zana Cultural Vanguard. The title itself is so apt because we are truly going through challenging times. And it captures the essence so beautifully. “Usilile” meaning Do not cry caught my attention, and so I decided to start with this track.

Usilile has a nostalgic feel to it, the backing vocals are ever so soothing and calming, making way for the lead singer to deliver a beautiful reminder that you are not alone. It beckons one to come home, and to rest in the comfort of family.

Banitjikali is such a FIERY track, one cannot help but get up and dance. Because the song is so rousing and you can hear “mpululu” often used at celebrations, one might imagine this to be a happy occasion. But the lyrics hold a far deeper meaning. The singer expresses a trial they are being put through, but such is life. We are often tested to grow and become the best versions of ourselves.

Lunde is an oratory gem, Kalangas are well known for storytelling, and this lives up to that. The lessons are not missed as the tempo is deliberately slowed down for the story to settle. In essence, a bull is narrating of how it was eaten from inside of Lunde’s belly. This is suffused in our nature as human beings to perhaps take what does not belong to us.

Maitengwe took me by surprise, I assumed the artist was referring to a village in the Northern District of Botswana. But it turns out in this context the artist lost a sentimental piece of clothing and is sadden by this and the song expresses their sadness and wish to be able to replace the lost item.

Nyika yaka woma had me a little topsy turvy as I wanted to ensure I got the right context. Words have so many different meanings but in line with the general sense of the album, I believe this song speaks to the hard realities of life. Woma meaning dry or to dry, signifies the harshness most if not all people are experiencing now. A direct translation to Tswana would be “Go thata mo lefatsheng”.

Uwee is an exclamation but also a song from a parent or elder comforting a child even though the child was wayward and the negative outcomes they are now experiencing are a direct result of their behaviour. Any parent understands that to correct behaviour one must be firm but not overly critical to a point where the child misses the point completely. This song reaffirms this notion.

Overall, this album has been an absolute joy to review. It is so appropriate for current times and embodies all the beautiful parts of our Kalanga heritage. By understanding our culture, we can fully appreciate and value it as much as we should, which encourages more people to care for it thus future generations are able to enjoy it. Well-done Zana Cultural Vanguard. Toita machena!!!


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