Thursday, February 21, 2013

gumboot guitar

the real  isicathulo  story ( in brief )

At the height of the migrant labour system and the oppressive apartheid pass laws, within the South African gold mines, laborers were forced to create their own forms of entertainment and communication. The strict laws at the time forbid the miners from talking to one another which led to them developing their own ‘Morse code’ inspired communication system of slapping their gumboots (Wellington boots), stomping their feet and rattling their chains, which restrained them to their work stations. From this came an entertainment, as the miners developed their percussive sounds and movements into a unique dance form and used it to entertain each other during their free time.
The racial separation of apartheid government meant that miners were separated from their families for long periods of time. The men would be taken chained into the mines and shackled at their cramped work stations in almost total darkness. They were forbidden to move around and punishment was enforced with physical abuse. Conditions were very poor; floors were often flooded with poor or non-existent drainage, which meant that they often suffered from skin ulcers, foot problems and consequently lost work time. The white bosses, rather than spend the money needed to properly drain the shafts, issued the workers with gumboots. Thus, the miner’s uniform was born; heavy black gumboots, jeans or overalls, bare chests (as temperatures would reach up to 40°C) and bandannas to absorb the eye-stinging sweat. To the miners, gumboot dancing was not only a method to communicate and entertain, but a method to survive.
It didn’t take long for the miners to attach lyrics to their newly found dance. The songs that were sung to go with the snappy movements dealt with working-class life − drinking, love, family and low wages. They would even sing about the cruel bosses and the despicable control they had over them. Quite amusingly the bosses were none the wiser as the workers sang in their own native languages. Even more amusing is that the mine bosses came to enjoy the deeply rhythmic resonances that mocked them and began to stage performances featuring the best of the gumboot dance troupes from the local mines. The dancers were used to entertain visitors and spread good PR by representing the company. From there it spread tribally and became popular throughout South Africa. Eventually it became a popular performance worldwide. By the end of apartheid it had evolved beyond communication into the fully fledged expressive art of the gumboot dance we know today.

 Music previously played on Zulu musical bows was transferred in the new urban environment to the guitar and often concertina and violin too. the music was called maskanda. 

Musicians played for their own enjoyment, but they also joined miners’ gumboot dance teams to accompany this exhilarating genre. Often lacking in formal performance areas, most of this music-making traditionally takes place on the streets of single-sex hostel compounds. These recordings from 1988 and 1996 feature musicians and gumboot players who lived in one such hostel outside Durban.

“This is the real deal, street music played by people who work hard all day and play at night or on the weekend. The real roots of South Africa umbaquanga music are right here. There’s a variety of sound on Gumboot Guitar as far as instruments are concerned: on gumboot-dominated tunes, the guitar plays rhythmic chords with a very percussive attack. A pounding beat is also belted out by an accordion or concertina on most tunes…powerful.”

the good recordings are by Janet Topp Fargion & Albert Nene...

gumboot guitar

No comments:

Post a Comment