African music expert talks politics at NMMU

MAY 3, 2016

Radio and TV personality, Richard Nwamba, well-known across the globe for his expertise on the music of Africa and the African Diaspora, will be in Port Elizabeth on May 4 to share his insights about “African music’s response to African politics”.

Nwamba, 57, who spent 10 years as an English and History teacher and the past 21 years as a radio and TV broadcaster, presents SAFM’s “The African Connection” on Saturdays from 1pm to 3pm, along with shows on SABC’s Channel Africa and the British TV company, Signature Africa Network (SANtv).

“I was born in Mozambique, and grew up listening to Cuban and Brazilian music on Radio Mozambique. When I moved to South Africa in 1975 [as a 16-year-old], the only music on the radio was South African or Western music.” This prompted him to buy LPs featuring different African artists – the start of a lifelong collection that fills his house. He also started buying magazines about African music.

“By the time I started broadcasting, I had a fair amount of knowledge … There is so much variety in the music of Africa and its Diaspora, more than any other music in the world.” His playlists include music from Cape Verde to Madagascar to Algeria to the West Indies, and further afield to the Americas, where Africans first lived as slaves.

He says the beauty of some of the music is that it is not made for commercial purposes, but for worship or cultural purposes. For instance, in Madagascar, there is the funerary tradition of “Famadihana” (turning of the bones), a ceremony where the people bring forth the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts and rewrap them in fresh cloths. Only the best singers are selected on sing on these occasions. “The Malagasy believe that the singers have to be so good as to appease the spirits of the dead … This music is not meant to be sold.”

Nwamba makes it his business to know the stories behind the music, and this is what makes his shows so compelling.

“Africa’s greatest gift to the world has been its music: From jazz to the blues to rock ‘n roll – all these genres were inspired by the music of Africa.”

Asked about the topic he will present at NMMU, Nwamba said musicians have often responded to politics though their music. Some have made direct statements against the ruling parties, and have had to leave their countries as a result, but others have handled politics more subtly, such as Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, who wrote the song Wasakara, meaning ““Accept that you’re old”.

The award-winning playwright, musician, actor and broadcaster often contributes his views on African music for the BBC, and has in the past contributed articles for the UK’s premier world music magazine, Songlines.

He has also written articles on African music for Sawubona and Islander, the in-flight magazines for South African Airways and Air Mauritius, respectively.

Nwamba’s talk – which is part of the NMMU Faculty of Arts’ “Decolonisation in the Global South” series – takes place in the South Campus Auditorium from 4pm to 5.30pm on May 4.

To attend, contact [email protected].