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South African Music
Traditional Music
Traditional Music
Popular Music


For the people of South Africa, singing in itself is a tradition. They enjoy singing to pass the time during daily chores, or to celebrate special events. The music they sing has, over the years, been influenced by many different people and groups. Missionaries, along with American spirituals, have largely influenced South African music. South African music has also been largely influenced by music emerging from the Western World and Europe.

What are some traditional South African songs?
     One well known traditional South African song is a song called "Mbube". After this song was altered and added to, it became an international hit in 1939. This song has since been in the movie "The Lion King". Today, it is more commonly known as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
     Another well known traditional South African song is "Siyahamba", or in English, "We are Walking in the Light Of God".
     Many traditional South African songs have a story behind them, such as "Sarie Marais" and "Die Alibama". "Sarie Marais" was created during the Anglo-Boer war around 1900, and tells a war story. "Die Alibama" is said to be composed about the US Confederate ship Alabama, which stopped in Cape Town in 1863. The Alabama had recently captured the Federal ship Sea Bride, and so the arrival of Alabama led to a huge beach party.
    Other traditional South African songs are "Vula Botha", "Asikhatali, "Gabi Gabi" (Praise the Father), "Ipharadisi", "Akanamandla" (He has no Power), and "Bamthatha" (He's Locked Up).  

What does traditional South African music sound like?
     Many of the traditional South African songs find their roots in a style of music called isicathamiya. This style of music grew from a combination of the already present South African vocal music, and a missionary emphasis on choir. Isicathamiya is a type of a cappella singing that blends Western hymns with indigenous harmonies. It is written in a call and response format, and is most often sung by men. If you've ever heard the group "Ladysmith Black Mambazo", they are an excellent example of the isicathamiya style of music.

What instruments are used?
     Most traditional South African music is not dependent on instruments. The songs are most often sung at bars, while working (often in mines), or while completing daily chores. Therefore, musical accompany is not common. The traditional South African music is largely dependent on the voice box.  

Who composed this music?
     As with most traditional music, composers are not known. Most of these songs were passed generation to generation, friend to friend, and the composers names were either never known, or forgotten along the way.

Where can I listen to traditional South African music?
     If you would like to listen to Vula Botha, go to
     To listen to Siyahamba (We are Marching in the Light of God), go to and click on melody.
     To Listen to Sarie Marais, go to and click on melody.  


Music of the World- Grade 10 Band project