By Siemon Allen
Recently I was invited to participate in a round table on the theme of "Global Zulu" for the 16th triennial ACASA conference hosted by the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Organized by Gary van Wyk and Lisa Brittan, the presentation was a precursor to their curatorial work around an exhibition based on the same theme. Other participants on the round table included Hlonipa Mokoena (Columbia University), Sandra Klopper (University of Cape Town), Dingani Mthethwa (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Catherine Elliot (University of East Anglia / British Museum). Gary had invited me to talk about the use of Zulu iconography on record covers but I chose to take a slightly broader approach by including earlier material. My text and images presented at the conference follow below:
I came to this round table not as a specialist on Zulu Culture but rather as an artist who for the last 15 years has been working on a series of projects based around the theme of Imaging South Africa. For these projects I collect, archive and display various artifacts, specifically those that have left the country and exist in the wider world, and ones that, for better or worse, construct images of South Africa. The vast majority of these artifacts are paper ephemera such as stamps, trading cards, postcards, record covers, and so on. Today I will focus on one aspect of that constructed South African image — Zulu culture — and how it has been imaged in the West.
A letter, discovered in 1941, written by Nathanial Isaacs to Henry Fynn in which he gives publishing advice to Fynn, states: “Make them [the Zulu kings] out as bloodthirsty as you can, and describe the frivolous crimes people lose their lives for. It all tends to swell up the work and make it interesting.”2 Fynn was one of the first explorers to arrive at Port Natal and had lived amongst the Zulu for some years documenting his experience in a diary. Fynn was looking to publish his diary in London when Isaacs wrote to him.
It is from Isaacs that we have the first, and one of the few, images of King Shaka, shown here in “battle-dress”.
What, for me, is significant about this account is that Shaka does not choose to greet his guests dressed in his warrior attire (for obvious reasons, he was not at battle.) But rather it is the visitors, the Westerners, who desire to see him dressed as such.
This is then how Isaacs chooses to represent Shaka in the lithographs to the British public and it is this image of the male Zulu as warrior that is then imprinted on the imagination and continuously re-imaged in the West.
Though Shaka does not at first appear in his military dress for the visitors, in complying to their request he becomes a kind of participant in this projection of the warrior image for his so-called ‘other’. His performance as the warrior is an assertion of cultural pride and a legitimate affirmation of Zulu identity. Seen through Western eyes, though, this same action becomes a spectacle and a form of exoticism.
Thus comes into play a complex dance of “performing Zulu” for Western audiences, where actions and objects of significant cultural pride — the clothing; the weapons, such as the assegai and knobkerrie, the isihlangu or battle shield — are used by Westerners as signs to reinforce early stereotypes of the Zulu as “warlike and savage”.
Print was not the only medium to contribute to these problematic Western images of the Zulu in the 19th century. Further examples of Zulu culture as spectacle are discussed in Bernth Lindfors book, Africans on Stage, where, in the summer of 1853, A.T. and C. Caldecott brought thirteen Zulus by ship to London “for the purpose of exhibiting them to the British public.”6 The show included elaborate performances by the men in traditional warrior dress and was reported as one of the most popular shows in London at the time. Similarly, in 1879, William Hunt, also known as Farini, mounted shows concurrent with the Anglo-Zulu War of Zulu warriors performing in London.7
The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, like no other event before it, brought British interests in Zululand, to the front pages of the international press. The various Zulu victories against the world’s then leading imperial army were often featured in papers like The New York Times. An article on February 12th after the battle of Isandlwana reads: “The news of the defeat caused a sensation throughout London. The demand for newspapers at all the suburban stations was greater than since the outbreak of the Franco-German War.”8 Another article from July 25th covers the eventual Zulu defeat at the battle of Ulundi and discusses possible outcomes for then Zulu King Cetshwayo.9
Cetshwayo also became the subject of the British satirical weekly magazine Punch. In this cartoon he is shown with a female entourage meeting British high society, in what I am assuming is a fictional account as the image appears to be dated from 1879, well before his 1882 visit.
Allen & Ginter of Richmond, Virginia was one of the first cigarette companies to insert printed cards into their tobacco products as a way to stiffen the packaging and serve as a marketing device. Many subjects ranged from the quasi-educational to blatant propaganda. This set from 1887 explored the Arms of all Nations and included an image of a Zulu warrior with Assegai situated interestingly with other weapons from across the globe.
Early postcards however showed very little of the rapid industrialization of contemporary African life under colonial rule. Images of the Zulu, rather, referenced a pre-colonial ideal with thematic stereotypes that perpetuated, for the Western viewer, a romantic image of “native” life.
Though rickshaws were quite clearly the result of problematic colonial labour dynamics, the practice did foster a uniquely Zulu and vibrant sub-culture. The horns in the headdress, for example, are symbolic of the strength of the bull.13
IMAGES IN THE RECORDING INDUSTRY
The earliest recordings of Zulu music date back to 1912 when the UK-based Gramophone Company sent a portable recording unit to South Africa and issued records on their Zonophone label. These included tracks by Impi To Sindiso, H. Selby Msimang, P. Mbonambi and J. Vilakazi.14 But field recordings were not the greatest quality and artists were frequently brought by boat to the recording studios in England.
James Stuart, a white, fluent Zulu linguist who was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1868. Stuart recorded at least 62 tracks, beginning in April 1927, that were primarily spoken word praise songs — or izibongo — dedicated to leaders like Shaka and Dingane. Of note Stuart was also one of the principles behind the eventual publication of Henry Fynn’s diary mentioned earlier. Much of Stuart's research is housed today at the Killie Campbell Africana Library in Durban. Stuart’s recording sessions were followed with those by Simon Sibiya and John Matthews Ngwane in 1929.15
But perhaps the most famous and successful Zulu recordings from this period come from the 1930 London sessions by Reuben T. Caluza’s Double Quartet. As Veit Erlmann so intricately reveals in his book African Stars, Caluza was South Africa’s first black ragtime composer and with his group recorded over 150 tracks for EMI. Caluza had been educated at John Dube’s Ohlange Institute and became a choral conductor and teacher there in 1915. In 1934 he graduated from the Hampton Institute in Virginia, USA followed by Columbia University before returning to South Africa to head the newly formed School of Music at Adams College outside Durban.16
"The Lucky Stars gloried in “scenes of native domestic life with a realism which would be otherwise unobtainable. […] And although elite critics such as Herbert Dhlomo mocked the show as “exotic crudités,” Durban working-class audiences “perceived finer shades of relevant ethical significance, and relished the skillful dramatization of double-barreled purpose in each play. […] If the acceptance of ethnic traditions among black cultural leaders before the war and during much of the 1920s was never more than half-hearted, the 1930s saw significant changes in black attitudes towards tradition and ethnicity. Thus in 1932 Mark Radebe, leading musical ideologue and Johannesburg music critic, argued that a genuine national musical idiom had to be “based on the real Bantu Music, namely its folk music. […] In Natal, leaders like John Dube exerted a strong influence on African thinking about ethnic tradition; and both the Ohlange Institute and Adams college were instrumental in bringing educated elite into tune with the new policy. Thus it is by no means accidental that in terms of musical performance, the shift toward traditionalism first took shape at Adams and Ohlange […]"17
Zululand War Dancers as excellent examples of ndhlamu dance — often featuring the ingoma drum or sometimes clapping. Tracey pointed out that the tracks were incorrectly referred to as "war dancers" and that the drum was erroneously mislabeled as a “tom-tom”. In the same issue he mentions Mameyiguda Zungu (on HMV), a stevedore in the Durban harbour, as being one of the best-known ndhlamu dance leaders in Durban.18
Ndhlamu or more broadly speaking ingoma dance as Erlmann points out, was one of the “most powerful symbols of working class Zulu identity” and had a strong tradition dating back to pre-colonial times. Ingoma dancing was for a time banned in Durban after practitioners of the form were linked to riots there in 1929. But through a process of negotiation and “domestication”, using weekly organized dance competitions, the art form was eventually adopted and promoted by White-owned businesses in Johannesburg (notably mining interests) and Durban.19
Though dance competitions had been staged in Johannesburg as early as 1921, a committee composed exclusively of whites allowed for the staging of the first “Natal Native Dancing Championships” in 1939 in which more than fifty ingoma teams participated. As Erlmann details in African Stars: “One of the most readily observable results of the restructuring of ingoma dance was the emergence of a completely new type of “traditional” dance regalia. Prior to the Dancing Championships most dance troupes in Durban had preferred vividly coloured cloth skirts and a cape-like shoulder covering over a pair of long trousers, vests, and car-tire sandals. When the white organizers of the spectacle suggested that more “traditional”-looking regalia be worn to enhance the visual aspect of the dancing with tourists, most teams readily adopted a completely different outfit of animal skins, sticks, and shields that now forms the standard ingoma “uniform”.20
Though Erlmann maintains that the performers only donned the more traditional clothing at the request of the white organizers in 1939, quite clearly this image he sourced from the EMI archives shows Mameyiguda and his dance group dressed in traditional attire as early as 1933.
The linking of traditional Zulu symbols with images of the industrial labor experience of working class blacks was also used as a marketing strategy to entice black consumers. Below, Gallo’s 78 rpm Singer sleeve from the early 1930s shows idyllic images of a Zulu warrior gazing over land (that ironically is no longer his) and a maiden fetching water; juxtaposed with ingoma dancers, in the distance, performing at the base a Johannesburg mine.
These 1958 LPs were designed specifically for white audiences and the international market. The UK Columbia issue on the left shows a Zulu maiden dance from what I believe is the annual Shembe religious festival, but here decontextualized. On the right is the US issue with a different title: Music of the African Zulus. Misleading in that not all the music on the compilation is Zulu, nor is it religious or traditional, but rather quite eclectic, contemporary and urban. Interestingly the women’s naked breasts here have been edited with additional in-studio decorative clothing, perhaps suggesting a sensitive shift from the earlier exploitative approach seen in the postcards. However, I suspect this may have had more to do with censorship and “wholesome” marketing in the international context.
Ironically, unforeseen by the government, this strategy generated a whole popular resurgence in neo-traditional music styles in the 1970s and early 80s.
“A last issue of concern to township playwrights during the Struggle period was the proper role of indigenous historical culture in town and township theatre. On the one hand, urban cultural disorientation, social disintegration, and the philosophy of Black Consciousness fostered the positive reassessment of the ‘traditional’ among urban Africans. On the other hand, the success of Welcome Msomi’s Zulu Macbeth, U-Mabatha, and of exploitative displays of African tradition by white producers, Ipi Tombi, nonetheless inspired township playwrights to blend traditional music, dance, and divination scenes into their plays. The verdict of township audiences on these attempts was that ‘traditionality’ was acceptable, even rousingly effective, provided it was done ‘authentically’ - in a manner recognizable from rural community performance - and with expertise.”26
From 1975 on there is an explosion of records by groups re-introducing ethnic iconography and depictions of the rural experience on their covers. As shown here for example by the Queue Sisters and Mthembu Queens. Curiously the later cover shows the group in traditional dress on the front and contemporary urban clothing on the back.
Other albums show the group performing the ingoma stamping dance, continuing the tradition made famous by artists like Mameyiguda in the 1930s.
Their debut LP, Amabutho, in 1973 became a major success and was one of the first records by black artists to go ‘gold’ in South Africa. Between 1973 and 1986 they would release at least twelve hit records locally before collaborating with Paul Simon on his historic Graceland album and becoming international stars
In closing, the Zulu maskanda tradition continues to be hugely popular in South Africa and was throughout the 1990s. Artists like Phuzekhemisi (medicine drinker), or more recently Izingane Zoma, came to prominence not only for great music but also for controversial and political themes critiquing aspects of contemporary Zulu life.
1. Wylie, Dan. 2006. Myth of Iron: Shaka in History, University of KwaZulu Natal Press, Durban; reviewed in: Rory Carroll, "Shaka Zulu's brutality was exaggerated, say new book", The Guardian online, May 21, 2006.
2. Oakes, Dougie, (ed.) 1989. Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story, Reader's Digest, Cape Town, p. 87.
3. "The Zoolus of Eastern Africa" in the The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, London, No. 799, October 8, 1836.
4. The meeting is between Lt. King, his party and Shaka and his described in King's diary. Isaacs in his book quotes extensively from King's diary as that text had come into his possession after King had died at Port Natal.
5. Isaacs, Nathaniel. 1836. Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, Descriptive of the Zoolus, Their Manners, Customs, with A Sketch of Natal, Edward Churton, London, p. 60-61.
6. Lindfors, Bernth (ed.) 1999. Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, p. 62.
7. Ibid., p. 81.
8. "The Victory of the Zulus", The New York Times, New York, February 12, 1879.
9. "The Battle of Ulundi", The New York Times, New York, July 25, 1879.
10. Photographs of Cetshwayo and his entourage on the ship Natal were shown in the exhibition: Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics, curated by Tamar Garb at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York, March 22 - May 18, 2013. The exhibition was reviewed in the blog: Art Blat.
11. Binns, C.T. 1963. The Last Zulu King, Longmans, London, p. 190.
12. Nicholson, Martin P. 1996. Catalogue of the Postcards of Southern Africa: Volume 1 - Sallo Epstein, self-published, Northants, UK.
13. An observation noted in more detail by Sandra Klopper during the "Global Zulu" panel discussion.
14. I am indebted to Alan Kelly for his tireless research on the Gramophone Company discography and for graciously sending me his notes on the Zonophone T-series.
16. Erlmann, Veit. 1991. African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 121.
17. Ibid. p. 77.
18. Tracey, Hugh (ed.) 1948. "Records of African Music", African Music Society Newsletter, Roodepoort, Vol. 1, No. 1, July 1948, p. 26.
19. Erlmann, Veit. 1991. African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 96.
20. Ibid. p. 108-109.
21. Ibid. p. 106.
22. As noted in the exhibition: Siliva Zulu: Silent Pictures Telling Stories, curated by Fiona Clayton, Gerald Klinghardt, and Lalou Meltzer, Iziko Slave Lodge, Cape Town, 2011-2012
23. The Republic of South Africa: 300 Years of Progress, pamphlet issued by the South African Government Information Service, New York, 1964.
24. Drewett, Michael. 2008. "Packaging Desires: Album covers and the Presentation of Apartheid" in Grant Olwage (ed.), Composing Apartheid: Music For and Against Apartheid, Wits University Press, Johannesburg, p. 128.
26. Coplan, David B. 2007. In Township Tonight: Three Centuries of South African Black City Music and Theatre, Jacana, Johannesburg, p. 276.
27. Allingham, Rob. 1990. Liner notes to the CD Singing in an Open Space: Zulu Rhythm and Harmony 1962-1982, Rounder Records, Cambridge, MA.
28. Michael Drewett quotes Richard Pithouse in "Packaging Desires: Album covers and the Presentation of Apartheid" in Grant Olwage (ed.), Composing Apartheid: Music For and Against Apartheid, Wits University Press, Johannesburg, 2008, p. 130.
29. Drewett, Michael. 2008. "Packaging Desires: Album covers and the Presentation of Apartheid" in Grant Olwage (ed.), Composing Apartheid: Music For and Against Apartheid, Wits University Press, Johannesburg, p. 130.
30. Twelve LBM's record covers are shown on the back of their Intokoza LP, Ezomdabu (BL 205), Gallo, Johannesburg, 1980.