Tuesday update #2: isiZulu newspaper Isolezwe, a South African success story

Launched in 2002 in its paper edition and in 2004 online, Isolezwe is a leading South African daily newspaper in isiZulu. The site is targeting both isiZulu speakers in search of news in their language (potentially over 11 million people) and learners of the language seeking reading material.

Known for using a more popular form of isiZulu than its competitor Ilanga, Isolezwe is meant to appeal to the Zulu speakers of today who live in an increasingly urbanised, modern environment. Here is former editor Thulani Mbatha’s take on his readership:

Our readers have always known they were Zulu, we’ve just managed to cater for the modernising Zulu. Someone who may go back home to the rural areas to slaughter a cow to the amadlozi [ancestors], but is as equally comfortable taking his family out for dinner and a movie in a shopping mall.

The isiZulu newspaper is a publishing phenomenon in South Africa, registering no less than 112 648 single-copy sales in the second quarter of 2012 and showing very promising growth. Isolezwe’s success is attributed to its tabloid format distilling a heady mix of entertainment, local football, but also issues related to religious belief, feel-good success stories and … very little politics!

The clout of the newspaper is such that stories penned by Isolezwe music chronicler Charles Khuzwayo are said to have contributed to the reconciliation of two maskandi artists who were embroiled in a conflict. In October this year, Khuzwayo won the Best Journalist award in the print category at the South African Traditional Music Awards (SATMAs).

All this augurs well for the development and the spread of isiZulu which is the mother tongue of 22.7 % of the South African population according to the 2011 census (pdf). But what of the other eight official indigenous languages of South Africa? The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offers news and various programs in all official languages, with radio stations being the most dynamic in promoting even minority, non official languages.

However, English dominates almost all spheres of communication, despite being spoken natively by only 8 % of South Africans. According to The Economist:

Not only is [English] the medium of business, finance, science and the internet, but also of government, education, broadcasting, the press, advertising, street signs, consumer products and the music industry. For such things Afrikaans is also occasionally used, especially in the Western Cape province, but almost never an African tongue. The country’s Zulu-speaking president, Jacob Zuma, makes all his speeches in English. Parliamentary debates are in English. Even the instructions on bottles of prescription drugs come only in English or Afrikaans.

In a South Africa witnessing the decline of its African languages, Isolezwe’s popularity is a sign that there is still a strong potential for isiZulu media.


We conclude this second Tuesday update in music, with late maskandi artist Bhekumuzi Luthuli :

More on South Africa’s languages on BBC Radio 4: Our language in your hands with anthropologist and linguist Dr Mark Turin


Music break: Iddi Achieng (dholuo + kiswahili)

Back from a 3-year contract touring Europe, Iddi Achieng performed last May in Nairobi, once again warming the hearts of music buffs with her unctuous melodies. Always full of vitality, she interprets songs in Dholuo and Kiswahili.

Here is a past performance recorded on International Women’s Day at Alliance Française de Nairobi:

In a recent interview for Sabahionline, she said:

My music is informed by my Luo and Kenyan culture. I sing 90% in Luo to fully express myself and the other bit in our Kenyan national language [Swahili] to pass important national social messages. I speak to Kenyans about their culture through music because I am also Kenyan so I know what Kenyan culture is.

Enjoy the music!

Interview in English: ‘Iddi Achieng: Music is the African Way of Life
Mahojiano kwa Kiswahili: ‘Muziki ni Mfumo wa Maisha wa Kiafrika’

Where Africa meets Asia: the Sidi communities

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to attend a themed week on Sidi culture hosted by Alliance Française de Nairobi. From Monday to Wednesday, documentary films followed by discussions gradually introduced the audience to the history and lifestyle of this Afro-Asian community, from religious rites around the Bava Gor shrine to a dwindling poetic tradition. The week’s events culminated with a concert of traditional Sidi Goma music performed by a group from Gujarat, marking the official opening of the Samosa festival.

Here is a video of a string instrument called ‘malunga’ which is thought to have originated in East Africa:

Sidis (sometimes referred to as Habshis) are a community spread across several Indian states and beyond, whose ancestors came to South Asia from Africa as traders, soldiers and servants to the royal courts as early as the 13th century. Some trace their origins to Zanzibar and have retained a few words of Swahili used in ritual chants, although they now speak the local Indian languages natively.

Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya from University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth studies has carried out extensive studies about the music of the Afro-Asian communities in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. She first became interested in a Sri Lankan community  of African descent in Sirambiyadiya, on the northwestern coast of the island:

Indo-Portuguese is a language which should have died out with the end of Portuguese rule in 1658.  Yet here in this small African community it still survives albeit spoken largely by the elderly.  How had it survived among people with African ancestry?  And what were the mechanisms which ensured that survival?

In Pakistan (Karachi and Sindh) the Shidees sing lava which encompasses Swahili words.  In the nearby Maldives, Baburu lava rings out  the music introduced by African slaves.   The rhythm-driven music of the Roman Catholic Afro-Sri Lankan community in Sirambiyadiya and their Indo-Portuguese songs, called Manhas, reverberate in my mind.  Language change is inevitable but music is more resistant and the lyrics are preserving the vestiges of an endangered language.

In her paper African Migrants as cultural brokers in South Asia, Dr. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya notes that the Chaush living in Hyderabad sing in a Bantu language called Shambaa during religious ceremonies and at the beginning of healing rituals, even though they do not understand the words.

According to Pr. Abdulaziz Lodhi, the fact that the communities were rather scattered across the land and had Islam as an integrating factor contributed to Africans  quickly becoming indianised and in particular losing much of their linguistic baggage.

This said, he uncovered some linguistic evidence of the survival of some Swahili lexical items :

Recent fieldwork among the Sidis in Ratanpur and Bhavnagar in Gujarat during January 2007 has yielded only about a dozen Bantu/Swahili single word items and about a dozen phrases and a couple of complete Swahili-sounding sentences, e.g. ‘Ee manamuki, wapi koenda?’ (You young woman, where are you going?). In modern Swahili it would be ‘Wee mwanamke, unakwenda wapi?’ A couple of sentences were of mixed Bantu-Gujarati construction, e.g. ‘Kulya karwa jae!’ (Let us go to eat! Bantu ‘kulya’ = to eat, eating; Gujarati ‘karwa jae’ = let us go to do). One lexical item, ‘injoro’ (curry, gravy) used in Ratanpur, is not derived from any Bantu language but rather from the Ethiopian usage ‘injira’ (or Somali ‘anjera’).

Pr. Lodhi has recently published his findings … which I shall summarise for you once I get myself a copy of the booklet !

Wassoulou music : Fatoumata Diawara

Today was the first time I heard about the Wassoulou language and it came to me through the sensual voice of Fatoumata Diawara. Fatoumata is a talented singer of Malian origin who successfully merges her Wassoulou musical heritage with more global influences to create a unique mesmerizing style.

Here is ‘Bissa’, one of the songs featured in her debut album :

Lyrics translation:

They wanted to give me to a man, but I refused, as I didn’t love him
I want to choose a man for myself, who I love
I love Bourama, but he didn’t treat me right
I love Sola, but he didn’t treat me right
I love Alama, but he didn’t treat me right

So what to do?
So what to do?
So what to do?
So what to do?

They wanted to give me to a man, but I refused, as I didn’t love him
I wanted to choose a man myself, who I love
I love Bourama, but he didn’t treat me right
I love Sola, but he didn’t treat me right
I love Alama, but he didn’t treat me right


I rejected everyone
As you are the one I love
How did you do this to me?

How could you do it? x3
How could you do it to me?

You reject the man that you love because he has nothing
To go after another who has material wealth
You accept another man because of his possessions
Now he’s also getting rid of you, as he has the means to

Chorus x2

This post was inspired by xworldmusic. Vielen Dank!