NGOMA 6 - UKULWA
(as featured on Gen Bass and The Fader)
Framing house music, perhaps the most depoliticized of all urban musics, whose narrative revolve around unreflective pleasure seeking, in a political context may seem incredulous to some. Yet this incredulity would be based on a superficial reading of the essence of house music culture, despite what it has become in the commercial sphere: in its very inception, the escapism into a fantasy hedonistic world was an expression of the underprivileged and marginalized, and the creation of a sanctuary of acceptance was nothing less than a political act of the oppressed and discriminated against.
Perhaps even more than Chicago or Detriot 67, the political dimension is deeply interwoven into the urban musical fabric of South Africa, and has profoundly influenced its evolution. Zulu protest songs live on through Kwaito, the first musical expression of a free South Africa, and from there the current House culture developed: if less overtly rebellious, it nonetheless retains in its beats and voices the spirit of revolt: the urgent and passionate expression of a people who have been subjugated for too long.
The Zulu word Ukulwa means war and struggle. and in this context it can only mean a war against oppression and the struggle for freedom and independence. Apartheid may have officially ended, but its myriad effects can be unmistakably felt in a slew of social problems which plague the nation today, from crime to domestic violence as result of the break up of families, from poverty to various hardships which come from an entire generation having been systematically deprived of formal education. Thus even while many positive things are taking place, as South Africa is surely rising as a proud modern nation, even as we rejoice in these blissful rhythms, we must remember this war, and both continue, and continue to be inspired by, this struggle against domination, against injustice: Ukulwa.