Isicathamiya: From a Roaring Lion to A Gentle Harmony

iscathamiya-poster15If you’d been passing by the Playhouse a few weeks ago, you would have done a double take when you spotted the isicathamiya choirs, so beautifully turned out were the choir members! In fact what was once only a singing competition has now evolved into something much bigger with prizes awarded not only for the best voices, but also the best dressed!

Traditionally a Zulu style of music, isicathamiya has its roots in another type of a cappella music, namely mbube. But while mbube translates to ‘lion’, isicathamiya is derived from the Zulu verb, cathama, which means ‘to walk softly’. The change in name marked a transition in the style of the music, with mbube consisting of loud and powerful songs, and isicathamiya being more of a harmonious blend of voices. The name also refers to the style’s tightly-choreographed dance moves that keep the singers on their toes.

While many sources credit the American minstrels that toured South Africa at the end of the 19th Century with the start of of isicathamiya, there’s also much discussion around the link between isicathamiya and traditional Zulu beliefs – but that’s a topic for another day, so watch this space…..

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