South African Folk Songs

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Last October, I welcomed Artina McCain’s African American Folk Songs Collection, reviewed here, and took as sideways look at several other titles from Hal Leonard’s uniformly excellent series of elementary to intermediate piano solo arrangements of music from around the world.

Now I am delighted to introduce the latest title to this superb series. The South African Folk Songs Collection contains 24 traditional folk songs arranged by James Wilding and Nkululeko Zungu, and is now available.

Here’s the Pianodao review…

24 Traditional Folk Songs

James Wilding and Nkululeko Zungu introduce this new collection with these wonderful words:

“South Africa evolved from a land of racial injustice to one of democratic inclusion…
New formats of unity and inclusion have created an environment where people once forced to live apart can now live together. During Apartheid the music of South Africa’s various cultures and racial groups developed separately. It is long overdue to bring these contrasting musical traditions together in one anthology that reflects all the cultures of our diverse nation.”

Wilding and Zungu’s 24 arrangements include music drawn from many cultural groups, including Afrikaans, AmaNdebele, AmaXhosa, AmaZulu, BaPedi, BaSotho, BaTswana, Cape Malay, EmaSwati and Vatsonga.

The folk songs included are:

  • The Axe Cuts The Thorn Tree (Selepe Ga Se A Ja Mosu)
  • The Clouds, They Thunder (Kwakhuphuka Amafu Dali, Leza Laduma Lamthata)
  • Come Out Of Your Cave, Ncofula (Incaba No Ncofula)
  • The Crowing Of The Rooster (Iqhude Wema, Lakhala Kabini Kathathu)
  • Dance (Masesa)
  • The Day We Pound Earth (Motla Re Tulang Mobu)
  • Delilah, My Wife, See My Strength (Samson Nodelilah)
  • The Doves Above (Nalo Nalo Nalo Ihobe)
  • Go Forward (Shosholoza)
  • God Bless Africa (Nkosi Sikelel’ Iafrika)
  • Here Comes The Alibama (Daar Kom Die Alibama)
  • Hey, There They Are (Hee Ke Bale)
  • Hope, Don’t Leave Me (Thembekile)
  • I Am In Charge, It Will Be Known (Kuzakwaziwana)
  • I Have A Sweetheart In Durban (Ndinesiponono Sam Ethekwini)
  • Jan Pierewiet
  • Land Of Our Fathers (Fatshe La Bontata Rona)
  • Mama, Who Is This? (Mama Ngubani Na Lo)
  • Mom Did Not Write This Letter! (Asingomama Lobebhala Lencwadi)
  • Our Dearest Mothers (Oomama Bethu Esibathandayo)
  • Sarie Marais
  • Sugar Bush (Suikerbossie)
  • They Say There’s A Man In The Moon (Hulle Se Daar’s ‘N Man In Die Maan)
  • What Have We Done? (Senzeni Na?)

These songs indeed have a wide cultural provenance, befitting a country in which there are eleven official languages. There are songs of family and township life, of nature and of agrarian life, of faith and hardship, of alienation and of belonging.

Above all else, here is an abundance of music which speaks to the tremendous hopes of the people of South Africa, brimming over with catchy rhythms, melodies and joyous colours.

This excellent and varied selection is introduced in depth: four pages of notes launch the book, each piece brought to life with the story of its origin, cultural background, meaning and an explanation of the words (the full lyrics are not included).

Adding to this, at the rear of the book there is a Guide to Cultural Groups, Language and Traditions, with a short paragraph on each of ten people groups, and a map of the country showing its different regions.

24 Superb Arrangements

James Wilding and Nkululeko Zungu are well placed to bring us a distinctive selection and authentic arrangements of these songs.

The former is of British heritage and was born and raised in South Africa. After studying at the University of Cape Town, he moved the the US to complete his education, and now resides in Ohio.

Zungu is a South African-born composer who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, pursuing a career that has included teaching the piano in both Colorado and Cape Town, as well as lecturing on South African music at Hong Kong Adventist College.

Each contributes twelve pieces to the collection, and they are arranged in approximate order of difficulty, from Elementary to Early Intermediate, around UK Initial to Grade 3. The final pieces are more experimental in their arrangement, leading to the Lesotho and South African National Anthems which conclude the book.

Both arrangers clearly have a flare for mixing creativity and pedagogy in a context where faithfulness to the original songs is of primary importance. They have included ample (but not unnecessary) fingering, as well as sufficient dynamic detail and articulation to fully convey the expressive essence of each piece.

The icing on the cake of this handsomely produced book, many of the pieces are accompanied by characterful black and white illustrations.

Closing Thoughts

I am very much an enthusiast for this excellent series, and it is wonderful to see so superb an addition.

Wilding and Zungu’s brilliant arrangements are as enjoyable as they are playable; exploring the collection proved an enriching experience, and these are pieces to which I will undoubtedly return.

I would love to see Hal Leonard’ Folk Songs Collections become popular additions to teachers’ and players’ music collections everywhere. They really are a truly outstanding resource.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.