Song and Dance

“Amaaaaaandla!” The recorded cry of thousands of South African freedom fighters reverberates throughout the lecture hall. “Power! Power to the people!” they shout and sing, pumping their fists in defiance of the system that has denied them the basic human right of equality for so long. A black South African crooner sums up the tragic, bewildered feelings of his race, asking, “What did we do? What did we do? / Our only sin is color, is color, mhmm.”

The film clip winds to an end, and the lights come on. I’m fortunate enough to be attending a lecture on the critical role music played in dismantling apartheid, with a guest lecturer none other than the “retired” Archbishop of South Africa himself, Desmond Tutu. Entranced, I listen as he speaks in his plaintive, halting way of the mystical qualities of music. “It speaks that there is some… commonality between human beings, that there are some things we all do almost instinctively… [with music]. We get wings lent to our words.” His eyes bug out, as if the joy he finds in this truth lights him up from within so that he cannot contain his delight, and it seeps out through any portal available -. Softly, he begins to sing his own version of the lament we had just heard in the apartheid documentary.

The deep timbre of his voice triggers my memory of a visiting a rural village in Ghana. Only one member of my host family could speak even a few words of English, yet when – Mama Joyce started bopping out a beat on a hollow gourd, the language and culture gap I’d been feeling so strongly up to that point simply ceased to exist. I bounded down off my perch and started jiving to the gourd drum, feeling as at home as I do with my closest friends in Kentucky.  Immediately, the two younger women of the household joined me, laughing and singing a simple round that I was quickly able to pick up. Through song and dance we connected in a language that both included and went beyond words, one that created a feeling of warmth that permeated my entire experience. Connecting through music had helped to birth a common bond between us, just as the South Africans used it to express themselves, and ultimately bring their divided nation together.

— Ellie Nolan

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