Popular performance : youth, identity and tradition in KwaZulu-Natal : the work of a selection of Isicathamiya choirs in Emkhambathini.
In recent years there has been an increasing interest in the study of African popular arts and performance genres. In this study, I will focus on isicathamiya, a South African musical performance genre, and in particular the attempt of its practitioners to create new identities and a new sense of self through their own interpretation of the genre. This study will concentrate on the 'isicathamiya youth' in the semi-rural community of Emkhambathini (located about 30 kilometres east of Pietermaritzburg) and their strategies of self-definition in the New South Africa. Isicathamiya has strong roots in migrant labour and this has been the main focal point around which many researchers have concentrated. However, recent years have seen a movement of isicathamiya concentrated within rural and semi-rural communities such as Emkhambathini. The performers in these areas have a unique interpretation of the genre and use it to communicate their thoughts and identities to a diverse audience made up of young and old. In this study I will be looking at the 'isicathamiya youth' within three broad categories, the re-invention of tradition, the re-interpretation of the genre, and issues of masculinities. Each of these categories accounts for the three chapters within this study and serves to give a broad yet in-depth study of the 'new wave' of isicathamiya performers. The first chapter, entitled 'Traditional Re-invention', will deal with issues relating to the project of traditional 'redefinition' which the 'isicathamiya youth' are pursuing in Emkhambathini. I will show that tradition is not a stagnant concept, but is in fact ever-changing over time and place, a concept that does not carry one definition over an entire community. Through various song texts and frames of analysis I will attempt fto show how tradition is being used to further the construction of positive identities within Emkhambathini and give youth a place in Zulu tradition and in a multi-layered modernity. The second chapter will deal with how the 'isicathamiya youth' raise and stretch the boundaries of the genre in relation to a number of concepts. These concepts include topics of performance, women and popular memory and serve to give a broader view as to what the 'isicathamiya youth' are trying to achieve, namely a new positive self identity that seeks to empower the youth in the New South Africa. The last chapter will look at issues of masculinity and how the youth use different strategies to regain the masculine identities of their fathers and grandfathers and maintain patriarchal authority. Issues looked at within this chapter will include men's role within society and their perceptions of women.
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