Black Umfolosi: Washabalal’ Umhlaba / Earth Song

Headwaters of Identity

Listening Post 291. The Zimbabwean ensemble Black Umfolosi takes its name from a river in South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, whence the group’s ancestors migrated almost 200 years ago. And though the zigzagging riverbed has been mostly dry in recent years it remains a wellspring of identity and memory inspiring the gentle cadences and sparkling harmonies of its distant sons and daughters. Over the course of nearly 40 years, Black Umfolosi has built a reputation as cultural ambassadors for Zimbabwe and also a bridge between neighboring countries. The group is firmly rooted in gospel music and in Mbube, the South African a cappella style that grew out of Solomon Linda’s 1939 song of the same name, adapted as Wimoweh by Pete Seeger and The Lion Sleeps Tonight by the Tokens. On Washabalal’ Umhlaba/Earth Song, their fifteenth album, ensemble founders Sotsha Moyo, Thomeki Dube and Austin Chisare—joined by three artists from a new generation—meander (in Ndebele, Kalanga and English) like their namesake river through songs of faith, family, home and environment, mindful of life’s darker sides but tilting toward optimism in voice and dance. They are tender even as they sing Commandments: In Usemafini (He Is in Heaven, video 1) delivering a velvety call-and-response hymn to the King of Kings and Creator of all things; and in the sweet benediction of Busis’abazali (Bless My Parents, video 2). The title track addresses the need to look after Mother Earth in the same way we respect the mothers and fathers who raised us (video 3). 1944 Fulele (World War II, video 4) pays tribute to troops from Southern Rhodesia—today’s Zimbabwe—who served in the British forces, including Sotsha Moyo’s grandfather. Returning to scripture, Izono Zethu (Our Sins, video 5) seeks to channel error into sanctification. Across frontiers of time and terrain, Black Umfolosi sails with reverence, tranquility and majesty. (ARC Music)

Black Umfolosi: Washabalal’ Umhlaba / Earth Song
Sotsha Moyo, Luzibo T. Moyo, Thomeki Dube: Lead vocals
Thomeki Dube, Austin Chisare, Mthokozisi Moyo, Luzibo T. Moyo, Sandi Dube: Backing vocals

Language note. Ndebele and Zulu belong to the Nguni group of Bantu languages. Though largely mutually intelligible (along with Xhosa and Swazi), their respective speakers have distinct cultural identities. The Ndebele of Zimbabwe—the country’s second largest language group—are descended from Zulus who migrated from South Africa in the early nineteenth century. Mbube began as a Zulu music genre in South Africa and was ultimately adopted by Ndebele artists across the border. Kalanga is a sister tongue to Shona, the most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe.

All lyric translations by Thomeki Dube.

Usemafini / He Is in Heaven
Lyrics & music: Sotsha Moyo

(From the Ndebele lyrics)
He is in Heaven/My King lives in Heaven
Oh! King of Kings/We give you all the Praise
We Magnify your Holy name

My Father is in Heaven/My Wealth is all in Heaven
My Saviour is in Heaven/All that is mine is in Heaven
Hallelujah, Yeh! Hallelujah Amen

Jesus is my Father/He is my Saviour
He is my Redeemer/I am his child
For he is truthful/He never lies
He is reliable/He is trustworthy

Amen Hallelujah
Preside over me Oh! Lord, Amen!

 

Busis’abazali / Bless My Parents
Lyrics & music: Luzibo T. Moyo

(From the Ndebele lyrics)
God bless my parents/For they raised me up
I am educated today/I am a graduate today
All because of their love and care

I feel so lucky to have had such parents
When my enemies were pulling me down/My parents protected me
They believed in me when I was helpless

I therefore urge all children/Give maximum respect to your parents
For they sacrifice a lot of things to see them grow/They deserve respect

God I pray, look well after my parents/God I pray, bless my parents
They made me who I am today
When I had no confidence in myself/They were there to make me feel valuable

Bless, bless my parents/For I can’t thank them enough
Only you can bless them/Bless, bless my parents.

 

Washabalal’ Umhlaba / The Earth Perishes
Lyrics & music: Sotsha Moyo

(From the Ndebele lyrics)
Let us look well after Mother Earth/Who also looks well after us
She is the one and only Mother/Of the present and future generations

Let us manage our environment/In a positive way
Respecting Mother nature, and all her ways

Today we are faced with challenges/in climate change, due to human activities
Use and testing of destructive weapons/On land, and on sea
Industrial emission/Burning of fossil fuels

Hence cyclones of all sorts/Hurricanes, storms like never seen before
Loss and devastation/Some islands left as ruins

Authorities of this world/Why would you be silent?
When the Earth perishes/Why would you do nothing
To save Mother Earth from perishing?

 

1944 Fulele
Lyrics & music: Sotsha Moyo

(From the Kalanga lyrics)
1944 was covered in mist/The year covered in fog
German war it was called/World War II

A fierce war involving nations/Lives lost, and many casualties
Germany had ruthlessly/Taken control of her neighbouring countries

The world united against Germany/Heroes were born, such as my grandfather
Who survived in this war

He fought alongside the British/He told us stories about this war
Stories about Germany/Stories about German people

 

Izono zethu / Our Sins
Lyrics & music: Thomeki Dube

(From the Ndebele lyrics)
We shall be made whole/We shall be made clean
From our sins/From our iniquities
Only when we repent/And are born again
For the bible tells us

Repent and be baptized/In the name of Jesus
For the remission of your sins/For sanctification

Enjoy the sonship to the Living God/The times are difficult
Let your body be a house of prayer/Stay in His grace
For you were bought/Through His precious blood

 


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