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Culture, Music

Under the Marula Tree

by Morrel Shilenge / 19.03.2013

Garingani nwa Garingani. A long-long time ago. A story was told of how kings, chiefs and their communities always gathered to celebrate the harvest of the marula fruit in the shade of the mighty tree. The men, women and children danced and sang beautiful African melodies, together in oneness. This story continues today in Phalaborwa in Limpopo. Phalaborwa, home to both Dale Steyn and the widest man-made hole in Africa and boasting the highest winter temperatures in the country, also plays host to the annual Ba-Phalaborwa Marula Festival. Every year people come from around the province, from Bapedi, Vatsonga Vhavenda and even tourists redirected from the Kruger National Park, to celebrate the season of the marula in a week long festival, serving up everything from kwaito to jazz and traditional music, while marula beer is served by Tsonga and Pedi women.

Marula Beer Stall

The Jazz and Traditional Music Festival featured the likes of traditional Tsonga and Venda legends such as General Muzka, Colbert Mukwevho, Joe Shirimani, Ringo, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu. When General Muzka went to the stage he took the audience on a journey spanning from the Lowveld to Maputo with all the cultural nuances that Tsonga people deal with, he was later followed by Joe Shiramane who I personally feel is responsible for spearheadeding the whole Shangaan Electro craze, without really calling it that. He made the marula-fueled audience dance to his old tunes filled with witty Tsonga idioms. And yet I was perplexed the entire time as I stood and watched his backup singers dance xibelani (those Youtube-famed Tsonga dance moves), wondering how they did that.


After his set Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya cooled things down. I wandered off around the Impala stadium and took pictures of the crowd, but then realised what I was missign and ran back to view them perform in close view. Again I was stunned by the calibre of their performances. Leta Mbuli sang most of her popular songs, composed during the 70s and 80s. Her music is all about the upliftment of the human spirit and has no sell by date. She ended her set with ‘Uhuru’ and walked off stage without saying goodbye. I was in awe. Then Caiphus Semenya took over with ‘Carolina’. And I felt like my heart might jump up out of my throat. I was on a nostalgic rollercoaster ride. Memories of when I was child came drifting on the soulful strains of that music. Exhilarating!

The whole experience just made me appreciate the spectacle of live music all over again. This is what jazz and traditional music is all about: connecting the past to the present in a feeling.

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*All images © Morrel Shilenge.

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