Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa- Chief Executive of the NHC– For me the late Dr Joseph Mshengu Shabalala was not only a musical icon, but he served this country as one of its finest cultural heritage ambassadors. One cannot finish a statement without mentioning, amongst others, Mama Merriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, the Amandla Group, when talking about the hope that music does to people especially during difficult times. Who will ever forget the songs; Nomathemba and Homeless?
This revered Musical Icon has shown, the world at large, that to be human is to make music, and the music we make says a great deal about who we are or, at least, who we think we are. That is why music is not just humanity’s way of banishing the eternal and terrifying silence of the universe. It is also the way in which each piece of humanity lays claim to its own particular character. Music is thus profoundly ambiguous: ……
It unites all of humankind, for there are no peoples who do not make music, yet it also separates people, for it so often becomes an important way of defining the identity of groups and distinguishing them from others. As much as Mambazo collaborated with other musicians like Paul Simon and Dolly Parton, just to name a few, they remain true and original to their beat. Had they changed their style to suit others, I doubt if we were going to talk about them as the 5 times Grammy Awards Recipients.
This may seem like undue hyperbole, but the fact is that music is one of the most primal and fundamental aspects of human culture with many researchers even arguing that music (at least in a primitive form) pre-dates the emergence of language itself… A fact (ironically) not lost on some of the greatest writers in history, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once observed, “….music is the universal language of mankind”
“… Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there,” writes Daniel Levitin “….weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep and college students studying with music as a background….” He continues to note that, ….music is and was [always] part of the fabric of everyday life.
It’s for these reasons that I think, as much as we are saddened by his passing, we should continue to thank the Almighty for the gift that he had given us and celebrate his life. God watched from Heaven and felt that it is time for his child to entertain the angels and other fallen heroes with his melodically voice. He continues to be a shining star that he was.
As I close, let me assure the music industry, present here today, that the National Heritage Council, charged with the responsibility to preserve and promote our intangible cultural heritage will continue to acknowledge and appreciate your work which serves as a vehicle to showcase our identity as people, as we did with Mshengu.
Music is a very powerful medium and in some societies there have been attempts to control its use. We felt it here during the Apartheid era. It is powerful at the level of the social group because it facilitates communication which goes beyond words, enables meanings to be shared, and promotes the development and maintenance of individual, group, cultural and national identities. It is powerful at the individual level because it can induce multiple responses – physiological, movement, mood, emotional, cognitive and behavioural
Finally, I have travelled locally and the world over. One thing that is unique in our diversity, is our ability to dance. Dance is a natural method for learning and a basic form of cultural expression. Dance embodies one of our most primal relationships to the universe. Just as all societies create forms of visual representation or sounds into music, all cultures organize movement and rhythm into one or more form of dance.
Mshengu has levelled the playing ground, the platform is ours to continue with the dance. May his soul rest in everlasting peace. We are still homeless indeed.