Traditional Namibian Song and Dance

In Namibia, traditional music is mostly found in the villages and less practised and enjoyed in urban areas. Local and foreign contemporary music in its multiple forms is notorious in all the corners of the country. Traditional music in rural areas contributes to diverse functions linked to rituals at birth, death, marriage, healings, before and after hunting and fishing, circumcision, social evenings, stories telling, cattle exhibition naming of places, animals and babies, including many other activities. Music in rural areas is the reflection of all aspects of the life of the people where it is created, performed and even dies, contrary to the contemporary music in the urban areas which only cater for entertainment in clubs, bars, functions, shops and hotels. (featured Image Kuru San Dance Festival – Bushmen of the Kalahari by Afrika Calls)

Because of its isolation in the past with the rest of the world, Namibia under the South Africa rule has known only the music from that country. The censorship enforced at the time did not favour the hatching and blooming of the local music and dance. The music from other African countries, especially from the central, Eastern and Western Africa was linked with the word terrorism in Namibia. All those who listened to this music were called terrorists. This music was considered to be dangerous for Namibians to be exposed to, especially when the masters of the time could not understand the message in the songs. The American and British music was well established without any difficulty. That is why many artists from these two countries are well known in Namibia. Nineteen years after independence, Namibian artists did not come up with tangible Namibian contemporary music. They keep on being influenced most by the artists from the countries above mentioned and South Africa. Some attempts on the Namibian contemporary music creation took place before and after independence, but because of lack of support, those who were involved got discouraged. After independence, a lot of new genres of music have penetrated the Namibian arena.

Now, according to Francois H. Tsoubaloko Traditional Song and Dance here in Namibia is classified and should be understood under the following terms below:

     + Traditional dance

Traditional music and dance in Africa are most linked to rituals or social functions, as the immediate reference to human being, to a moral being, to a spirit, to conscience, to human traditional and rural life, transmitted from generation to generation. Dance is part of the culture, which is acquired and developed through informal education. All these performances are linked to the core of a specific world of ideas and beliefs. They also reveal a certain outlook of the world and life for certain human structure, the understanding of which brings it closer and makes it easier for us. It is a lineage of knowledge through practice, training and self-access. There exists a very good developed system of music and dance in place, most are on a special rhythmic system. The following given names of dances are the dominant ones in the country, but they might be some out there that are not yet discovered, linked to rituals, healings, social gatherings etc.

Photo above: San dancing around evening camp fire (from African Crafts Market)

Outjina and Omuhiva: Among the Herero community, outjina is danced by men and omuhiva by females. The two take place during celebrations and social evenings.

• Okunderera: This military marching type of dance takes place during celebrations, especially on the 26th of August, which is the National hero’s day and at the same time as Herero day. The Herero community celebrates this event at Okahandja seventy kilometre north of Windhoek. This day for the community serves to pay tribute to chief Maherero and the other Herero fallen heroes in the history of the liberation struggle.

Oudano or Uudhano: Within the Owambo people, this dance is a very common one. It is danced in two versions: The first performed by adult women, using slow motion, men are welcomed if they wish so, the second performed by girls with fast motion.

Omupembe: This dance among the Aangadjera people was forbidden in the past by the South African regime of occupation, for its nature that resembles military training practice. Young men during this dance jump over other people’s heads.

Ondjongo: Among the Ovazemba and Ovahimba communities, this dance is performed at any social celebration. It involves both men and women, songs are also known as ondjongo.

Okankula and Onkandeka: The first is play performed by elder people in a seated position, the second is also a fighting play performed by young people.

• Omutjopa: Accompanied by two traditional drums, omutjopa is also a dance performed by the Ovazemba community.

Shipero: This dance involves also drums and danced during social recreation functions, in north-east Kavango.

Epera: Three drums of different sizes are involved in this dance that takes place at the royal family’s functions, it is also being used during other rituals.

Ukambe, Kambamba and Nondere: The first dance is known as rain season dance, second is a quick dance with feet and the last one last one as hand and neck dance, all from Kavango region.

Kayote, Niakasanda, Liyala: In the Caprivi region, three names of dances take place during healing functions.

• Divare: This dance takes place during the healing rituals. Below a 9 minute clip about the San “Healing Dance”. This beautiful clip also shows the background of the “Healing Dance” (also read our past Blog Post on “The beauty behind African Storytelling” to gain a deeper understanding).

      + Our personal entertainment recommendation:

There are a bunch of various traditional Song and Dance performances available all throughout Namibia. Dates of performances may vary accordingly. However, for the individual who is interested in a traditional showcase (approx. 45 minutes), we highly recommend the “Showcase Namibia” which is performed daily from Monday to Friday at the Warehouse Theatre in Windhoek. What makes this Show ideal is the time which it is being performed. The show starts off at 15h30 CAT hence making it the ideal event for guest’s looking for some “afternoon entertainment” (for other afternoon entertainment please download our Adventure Collection .pdf). Even if you are returning home after a beautiful Namibian Vacation and are boarding an evening flight back home, gives this very original showcase a try if you have some time to spare. It will leave you refreshed, energized and in a positive mood before heading out to Hosea Kutako International Airport, guaranteed. My personal favourite throughout the Show is the drumming session and most definitely the kwaito dance session at the end. It definitely grabs hold of the viewer when embracing the entire theatrics behind this stunning show. Very impressive indeed!!!

Image: Showcase Namibia flyer (by the Warehouse Theatre in Windhoek)

• Location: Warehouse Theatre, 48 Tal Street in Windhoek City Centre (Tel: +264-61-402 253). ⇐ click for Google Maps

• Details: Show Start at 15h30, Refreshments available at Theatre, daily performance from Monday to Friday, very fresh/new musical performance (since 2019), traditional and non-traditional musical Instruments, semi-traditional garments, nice “Skit” elaborating on some of the diverse cultures and languages present throughout Namibia. Rember to also check out the links shown on the flyer for more information!

• Entrance fee: N$170, oo (booking not mandatory)

     + Our second recommendation:

The Joes Beerhouse Drumming Circle also is a very favoured event which is very interactive. As the event states “Drumming Circle” they even encourage you to bring your own traditional drums. So should you own some Bongo’s (or similar), then take them along. Although an evening Event, still well worth it. “This weekly drum circle was recently declared as “one of the 25-MUST-HAVE-Experiences in Windhoek” by The Namibian’s columnist Martha Mukaiwa!”

Image above: Graphical Media about the event (from Joes Beerhouse)

• Location: Joes Beerhouse, Nelson Mandela Avenue, Windhoek (Tel: +264-61-232 457) ⇐ click for Google Maps

• Details: Show Start at 18h00, Refreshments available at the Venue, Wednesday, 06.03.2019 (ends 18.12.2019), very interactive Showcase, traditional and non-traditional musical Instruments, semi-traditional garments, great for bigger groups. Rember to also check out the links shown on the flyer for more information!

• Entrance fee: None (however, booking recommended)

     + Other links:

• For the love of Dance (Namibian Sun Newspaper Article)

• Namibian Tales – 11 pages .pdf Document about the San musical culture (and more), great read!

• A study of Sipelu Music and Dance among the Masubia People of the Zambezi Region of Namibia (111 pages .pdf Document).

The African Mbira/Kalimba

The mbira has been an important instrument in sub-Saharan Africa and has played a part in African culture for 800 years. Although it can be a solo instrument, it is more commonly used as an accompaniment to singers, musicians and dancers. It is not uncommon for the native African instruments to allow solo harmonization, but typically, harmony in African music serves as a variation to the theme being performed. Many versions of the mbira exist with tribes creating distinctive performance styles and names for the instrument. They vary widely in appearance, size, materials, and tuning from the smallest 6-note models of the Kalahari Bushmen to the sophisticated 33-note instrument found in Zimbabwe (intro photo showing a traditional Mbira relic from northern Namibia, taken by Manfred Werner).

The name mbira is known throughout much of Africa, but regionally, the name mbira is more commonly used in Zimbabwe, while the name Kalimba is used in Kenya, the name ikembe is used in Rhuanda, and the name “likembe” is used in the Congo, while other names are bit less common such as sanza, sansa, marimba, marimbula, there are more generic names of finger harp, gourd piano, and thumb piano that are often used in the west. The mbira is also known as the thumb piano because one’s thumbs are used to pluck (or more accurately depress and release) the metal strips (tongues or lamellas) that sound particular notes. It is common for two mbiras to play together where one covers the melodic accompaniment of the singer while the other plays the bass line (or bourdon). Some mbiras have few tongues and others have many. Some of the more sophisticated instruments have two sets of tongues for one performer to play melody and harmony, or melody and bass line on the same instrument. In the 1920s, Hugh Tracey came from England to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to help his older brother run a tobacco farm. He became fascinated by the local music culture and created the Kalimba, a version of the mbira. Introduced by Tracy in the early 1960s, Kalimba was the registered trademark for his diatonic instrument that soon became popular around the world.

Above a selection of beautiful Mbira Instruments (taken from Wikipedia)

The word kalimba literally means little music. It was well suited for Western music and made it easy for the performer to play harmony using both thumbs. Today, versions of this African instrument can be found in most parts of the world, with wide use in parts of Asia, the Middle East, North and South America. Much of this popularity is due to the work of Hugh Tracy, but the simplicity of the instrument’s design and construction and the relative ease by which one can learn to play it has added to its wide acceptance throughout the world.

+ Physical Description:

The basic mbira is a simple soundboard or sound box with wooden (typically cane) or metal keys or tongues (called lamellas) attached on the top. The sound box is typically made from a calabash (gourd) or wood, and often the metal keys (tongues) were made from old spoon handles, bicycle spokes or spring wire that were cut and hammered to the desired shape. The keys (tongues) are plucked with the thumbs, or with combinations of thumbs and fingers. The keys usually consist of 6 to 33 metal keys (tongues) mounted across two bars (or wooden dowels) at one end attached to the sound box with another wooden dowel holding them in place. The bar closest to the sound hole serves as a bridge, the other to provide a means for the dowel to hold the keys (tongues) in place. The free ends of the keys (tongues) are positioned at different lengths to produce the variety of pitches. The length of the vibrating end of the keys (tongues) determines the pitch (a shorter key or tongue produces a higher pitch, and a longer key or tongue produces a lower pitch). Many of the mbiras with sound boxes have holes drilled in the sides of the sound box. When the instrument is held in both hands with the thumbs plucking the tongues, the index fingers on each side can cover and uncover these side holes to change the resonance and can provide a tremolo effect. The mbira often has several rows of keys (tongues) positioned like multiple manuals (or rows of keys) on a keyboard. The lower manual (typically longer tongues and lower pitched notes) often represent the men’s voices, while the upper manual (typically shorter tongues with higher pitched notes) represent the young men’s voices, or are split with one side of the upper manual representing the young men’s voices and the other representing the women’s voices. The tuning and arrangement of the tongues are varied.

Various modern Mbira’s (Kalimbas) – from Kalimba Magic

     + Sound Properties:

The mbira produces a haunting, fluid percussive sound that is considered tranquil and enchanting. Since you can play either simultaneously or alternate between both thumbs, harmonic and rhythmic effects are possible. An important feature of mbira music is its cyclical nature, with each new repetition of a theme varying slightly from the last and incorporate numerous interwoven melodies, with contrasting and syncopated rhythms. Mbira music lends itself to rhythmic and melodic diversity and entails a great deal of improvisation, qualities common to African traditional music. The compositions usually consist of a main melodic part (kushaura), and a secondary melodic part (kutsinhira). Special attention should be paid to the combination of quadruple (4/4) and triple 3/4 meters within the rhythmic structure of the music. Most compositions can be thought of as a sequence of four 12-beat phrases. Those 12 beats can be divided into three groups of four or four groups of three. While the Mbira can be an effective solo instrument, it is rarely found by itself at traditional Shona religious ceremonies. It is ordinarily accompanied by hosho players, handclapping, and singing. The persistent array of complex rhythms and variations of the melodies provides a rich source of sounds that captivates listeners. Many effects can be employed by plucking up or down on the keys (tongues). The sound can also be altered by wrapping the tongues with wire or adding a mirliton device. This adds an additional buzzing or humming character to the sound of the instrument which is an important sound in many of the tribal cultures. Often, snail shells or metal bottle caps are often attached to the soundboard or the sound box to create or enhance the rich buzzing sound. The buzzing is thought to clear the mind and allow the listener to focus totally on the music. These buzzing effects are not commonly used on the diatonic versions of the mbira or outside of the African tribal cultures. Most recordings do not include these effects as they tend to favour the pure sounds of the instrument. Mbira tunings are numerous, and usage depends on personal preference. Mbira players usually settle on a particular tuning and use it consistently. Some of the more common Mbira tunings are Nyamaropa (click for YouTube Video), Gandanga Dongonda, Gandanga (or Mavembe), Nyuchi, Dambatsoko, Katsanzaira, Mande, Nemakonde, Nyamaropa Dongonda, Samsengere, and Saungweme (below a short YouTube clip of an ethnic family in Zimbabwe playing multiple Mbira’s).

   + Links:

• Build your own Mbira (Kalimba) instructions with photos

• Build your own electrical Mbira (Kalimba) instructions with photos

• Build your own Mbira (Kalimba) instructions with photos (pdf. document – 1 page)

• Hugh Tracey collection of 22 various african musical downloads including various african traditional musical Instruments (going back up to the year 1952)

 

Namibia Top 5 Social Hang-Outs

# 1: Joes Beerhouse

A legendary Windhoek institution, this is where you can indulge (albeit with a little guilt…) in flame-broiled fillets of all those amazing animals you’ve seen on safari! Seriously. We’re talking huge cuts of zebra tenderloin, ostrich skewers, peppered springbok steak, oryx sirloin, crocodile on a hotplate and marinated kudu steak.

Location: 160 Nelson Mandela Ave, Windhoek, Namibia

Web: www.joesbeerhouse.com

Opening Times: 4.30pm-late Mon-Thu, 11am-late Fri-Sun

# 2: Warehouse Theatre

The Warehouse Theatre opened its doors in 1990 in the Old Breweries Building. It is Namibia’s premier live entertainment venue and comprises a 300 seater/ 600 standing theatre, Boiler Room (Bar and Bistro) and Cellar of Rock. Freshlyground, Vusi Mahlasela and more recently Dilana and Under Kontrol, to name but a few, have had their Namibian debut on the Warehouse Theatre stage. 2014 Also saw two highly acclaimed performances by South African artist Johnny Clegg’s acoustic band. The Boiler Room hosts Open Mic nights every Monday from 20h00, Karaoke nights on Tuesdays, and local live bands on Wednesday nights.

Location: 48 Tal Street | Old Breweries Building,Windhoek, Namibia

Web: www.warehousetheatre.com.na

Opening Times: 4:00 pm – 4:00 am daily

# 3: Kückis Pub

Kücki’s Pub is situated in the heart of Swakopmund, within walking distance from all major hotels and the main beach of Swakopmund. As our name suggests, we have a fabulous pub but are also well known for our seafood and grill restaurant. We have a very relaxed atmosphere, ample space on two floors and great food. Kücki’s Pub serves fresh seafood dishes and the best cuts of meat, grilled to perfection! Coupled with freshly tapped draught and a wide selection of good wines, your meal is guaranteed to be a winner!

Location: Tobias Hainyeko, Swakopmund, Swakopmund, Namibia

Web: www.kuckispub.com

Opening Times: 10:00 pm – 23:00 pm daily

# 4: Dylans Late Night Club

“Draught beer flowed like water last night… and the Karaoke stars where owning the stage,” commented Tony, co-owner of Dylans Nightclub, Windhoek, Namibia. “A great big shout out to the Bottoms Up System and all the effort and support put in by Jared-Dwight Geyser and his tenacious team for going that extra 1.6km. The promises that were made were kept, and we are now proud to have the coldest draught beer in Namibia.” Dylans Night Club is like the capitol city of any country compared symbolically regarding the Namibian Nightlife. Just a simple, plain and highly entertaining adult venue.

Location: 17 Joule Street, Windhoek, Namibia

Web: www.facebook.com/pages/Dylans-Bar/115634228520103

Opening Times: 20:00 pm – 08:00 am daily

# 5: Club Vibe

One of Windhoek’s rather newest club. Fresh, upmarket, funky and modern. Ideal for the individual who likes to meet new and random people…

Location: Strokes Street (next to Windhoek Show Grounds), Windhoek, Namibia

Web: www.facebook.com/Vibe-Pub-Club-Lounge-1394521134100955/

Opening Times: 20:00 pm – 03:00 am daily