Afrika Mamas: Iphupho

The Lioness Doesn’t Sleep

Listening Post 149. A common symbol of Zulu culture is the cowhide shield, ever present in images of the warrior-king Shaka and also the centerpiece on the official crest of KwaZulu-Natal, the South African province that is the heartland of the Zulu people. But as history merges with herstory, it’s evident that societies are shielded not only by warriors but also by strong women. And no group embodies the idea of protective Zulu women more than the a cappella ensemble Afrika Mamas. Six single mothers who cover a vocal range from bass to soprano with striking solos and extraordinary harmonies, they have raised a prominent profile on the once male-dominated Maskandi (Zulu folk) landscape. Inspired by the renowned choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Mamas recorded Iphupho (The Dream Song), their fourth album, in the Durban studio co-founded by Ladysmith’s musical director—an exhilarating experience recounted in the title track, written by Ntombi Lushaba, Afrika Mamas’ band leader/soprano. The album’s 12 songs revolve mostly around family, work and daily struggle. Lapha KwaZulu (Things Are Happening) compares the difficulty of rural life, often without electricity or indoor plumbing, to suburban amenities (video 1). In uMama Uyagula (My Mum Is Ill), by lead singer/bass Sibongile Nkosi, they sing of the aches and pains of a parent’s final days (video 2). Men do appear in the Mamas’ world—a breadwinner in Emgodini (Hole), about work in the mines; and the father of fathers in Tata Madiba (A Song for Nelson Mandela). At the opposite pole is Ulwabishi (Rubbish), by alto Sindisiwe Khumalo, skewering do-nothing husbands who expect everything (video 3). Arguably the album’s defining song is Imbokodo (Rock), suggesting that carrying a child in the womb for nine months is more taxing than picking up a shield. While the lion sleeps, the lioness nurtures and protects. (ARC Music)

 

Lapha KwaZulu/Things are Happening: The song, written by Maqhinga Radebe, is about communal living and daily life on a traditional homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal, where many residents don’t have electricity or proper toilets. As the lyrics say: abanye debase bayitholimpucuko think sisadla ngoludala– “People who live in the suburbs have everything, and we are still struggling.”

 

Umama Uyagula/My Mum Is Ill: When Sibongile Nkosi’s mother was ill, before she passed away, she was always crying about her headaches and stomach aches and it got Sibongile thinking she passed because of this sickness.

 

Ulwabishi/Rubbish: This is the story of a man who doesn’t support his family and yet expects to eat well when he comes home. Sindisiwe Khumalo wrote this song after observing several households and seeing how some men don’t seem interested in looking for work.


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