In 1979 I began investigating the traditional music in the area around the Catholic Lumko Pastoral Institute in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The people of that area are Thembu Xhosa, the same as South African ex-president Nelson Mandela. The village closest to Lumko is called Ngqoko. The music in that area was of such striking interest that musicologists in South Africa began to take an interest in it as soon as I was able to make it known in academic circles. In that area I discovered the first documented examples of overtone singing in any African traditional music. In addition the local music includes the use of different musical bows, and features truly amazing usages of rhythm, as well as highly developed and sophisticated songs.
In 1989 people from Ngqoko were invited to perform at the Autumn Festival in Paris, France. The performances were a great success. Among those who attended was Mme Mitterand, the wife of the French President Mitterand. In 1989 musicians decided to form themselves into a performing group, the Ngqoko Traditional Xhosa Music Ensemble. Since the first visit to France in 1989, the group has performed at festivals in Geneva and Basel, Switzerland, at various places in Germany including Berlin and elsewhere, and they have performed on several trips to London and other cities in England. The have performed several times in the United States, including at New York, as well as several times in Canada.
The music of the Ngqoko Group is unique and striking. The Group members have developed ways of presenting it for concert performance for local and international audiences. There are usually 11 or 12 performers in the group, including performers with the uhadi, umrhubhe and ikatari musical bows, and the majority of the group perform umngqokolo overtone singing of different types, they use persuccion and friction drums and one member of the group plays ikonsatina: a concertina adjusted to perform traditional Xhosa scale and chords. They perform songs and dances including diviners’ dance songs, umtshotsho boys’ and girls’ dance songs, dances from girls’ initiation and from various other traditional dance gatherings.
One extraordinary thing about the Ngqoko Group is that, even though they have travelled to and performed in many countries, they are traditional Xhosa people who can speak only the Xhosa language, except for Mr Tsolwana Mpayipeli. Mr Mpayipeli performs traditional music with the group, but he is also a teacher and vice-principal of a school and is fluent in English. It is thanks to Mr Mpayipeli that the group has been able to travel to so many different countries and perform there successfully. I have recorded them many times. My recordings of them are published by the International Library of Traditional Music in South Africa (ILAM). Details about the ILAM and its publications may be found on the internet.
(Prof. Dr) David John Dargie, Adjunct Professor in the Music Department, University of Fort Hare, South Africa: Munich, 7/5/2013.