Defining the migrant experience : an analysis of the poetry and performance of a contemporary southern African genre.
This dissertation focuses on the migrant performance genre isicathamiya, a genre which was popular amongst migrant workers in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the nineteen thirties and forties. It explores contemporary isicathamiya and asks whether there have been paradigmatic shifts in its content in post-apartheid South African society. By way of introduction, the origins and development as well as some of the themes and features of isicathamiya are highlighted. Hereafter scholarly accounts of migrant performance genres are discussed in conjunction with the cultural re-orientation of migrants in urban centers. The introduction is intended to contextualise the genre by alluding to the politics and aesthetics of isicathamiya performances. Leading on from the introduction, the first chapter of this body of research is a reflection upon the characteristics of oral literature; from the point of view of a literary scholar, I also discuss the problems of interpretation I experienced in this study of mediated isicathamiya lyrics. I propose that isicathamiya performances and texts are elements of oral literature and begin to define them as such. My intention in chapter two is to explore how local performances have influenced global culture. I ask if oral literature from South Africa has contributed to the global market. I ask what Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the internationally acclaimed isicathamiya choir, has invested in "First World culture" and suggest that there is in existence a transcultural flow of energy between the "so-called centre" and "so-called periphery". In chapter three I suggest that the local and global are in a state of dialogue. I hope to establish a dialogue between local isicathamiya choirs and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In essence, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has exported a musical form that has its foundations in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. This chapter takes readers back to the source of the genre. I take into consideration Veit Erimann's scholarly studies of isicathamiya in Nightsong: Performance, Power and Practice in South Africa. Focus falls upon the paradigm of rural/ urban migration in isicathamiya song and the importance of "home" in sustaining migrants in the city. The notion of "homeliness" as a trope in isicathamiya performances is discussed. By extension, in chapter four, I ask whether the notion of "home" emphasized by Veit Erlmann is of significance in contemporary isicathamiya performance. Consequently, I adopt a comparative approach and set out to identify the changes and continuities in contemporary isicathamiya performances in response to transformations within postapartheid society. I ask why isicathamiya is significant in post-apartheid South African society. What is its importance for personal and collective identity? What is being articulated within contemporary performances? Does isicathamiya provide a cultural space, a forum in which public debate (regarding leaders, policies and concerns) can be staged? Most importantly, is the thematic paradigm between the rural and urban world still visible in contemporary isicathamiya? Is contemporary isicathamiya still grounded on the notion of "homeliness", or have new thematic paradigms emerged in contemporary isicathamiya performances? I propose that South Africa in the present, is itself the site of multiple cultures and fragmented histories. The country and its people are searching for a new unitary meaning in the post-apartheid era. My argument is that isicathamiya texts are elements of postcolonial and post-apartheid literature. I suggest that language, through isicathamiya performance, can show a way back into reinterpreting the past and stitching together a different present. Isicathamiya texts give hints of journeys and point to identities, shared histories and cultural landscapes. Isicathamiya makes possible the sharing of knowledge and knowledge systems, and is an opportunity to hear un-erased histories and un-silenced voices.