Otto Gumaelius

Marimba Music From Southern Africa

Otto Gumaelius is a London based, Botswana raised, performing artist & teacher of southern African folk music on the marimba.

Sayiwela: Folk Songs of Southern Africa

Prior to industrialisation in southern Africa, the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe sustained themselves through farming, hunting and livestock herding. This changed drastically at the turn of the 20th century after their defeat in the Anglo-Ndebele war, which as a result, brought on the introduction of various colonial taxes which the indigenous people had to pay.

Many people, almost entirely men, had to leave their homes in search of formal work to earn an income. According to Russell Kaschula, the economy of Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia at the time), was unable to absorb all its labour force, resulting in people having to illegally cross into South Africa to seek work in the mines there.

Their journey was symbolised by the dangerous crossing of the river Limpopo - and song, as is common in African culture, was used to communicate and preserve this piece of history. 

The song, Sayiwela, was composed and its title translates to "We Are Crossing" - referring to the crossing of the Limpopo river into South Africa.

The lyrics for Sayiwela are:

Sayiwela, sayiwela (We crossed over, we crossed over)
Sayiwela sibili (We really crossed over)
Sayiwela Ingulukudela (We crossed the Limpopo River)
Siyofuna imali (To look for money)

Baphina obaba? (Where are the fathers?)
Basemazulwini (They are in heaven!)
Basitshiyel'indubeko (They left us problems)
Indubeko zomhlaba (These earthly difficulties) 

Baphina okoko? (Where are the mothers?)
Basemazulwini (They are in heaven!)
Basitshiyel'indubeko (They left us problems)
Indubeko zomhlaba (These earthly difficulties) 

Here's a short clip of my own marimba version of the song:

And here's the released version by Lovemore Majaivana:

To learn songs like this, join my weekly class in Bethnal Green. Find out more here. Private bookings and performances are also available. Feel free to get in touch today! 

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