When the modern meets tradition… Musicians explore San artistic traditions

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Sabina Elago

Windhoek-All the way from Amsterdam in The Netherlands, The Namibian Tales are descending on the Kalahari Desert to join musical forces with four grandmothers from the San community.

The collaboration dives into the wealth of traditions of the nomadic San and offers a unique musical journey. Together they explore ancient songs, blending them with elements from contemporary western music, an inspirational encounter, intended to develop new ways to pass on this unique heritage of chants, rhythms and dances from the San to future generations.

The Namibian Tales consist of Shishani Vranckx on vocals and guitar; Bence Huszar on cello; Debby Korfmacher on mbira, kora and vocals; Afron Nyambali on bass guitar and Sjahin During on percussions. The Ju’/Hoansi singers from the Kalahari consist of //Ao /Ui, Seg//ae /Kun, N!ae N!ani and //Ao N!ani.

According to Shishani, a founder of the Namibian Tales project, when they started the group back in 2005 with her partner, Sjahin, she always wanted to connect with Namibia culturally and musically.

“The idea was to study music from Namibia, regardless of which group of people but just [to explore] different traditions and we started with San people, because that was the first CD I had since I was a teenager. So, I have this interest in doing something about it,” Shishani enthused.

She added that they named the project ‘Namibian Tales’, because they were trying to find something linked to the roots of Namibia and they brainstormed the idea of focusing purely on traditional music.

The group aims to study traditional music, archive existing musical practices from San communities in the Kalahari, and engaging San performers on the global music market through collaborating with the Namibian Tales group and thus creating income generating activities for San communities through their music; through hosting workshops on self-management for artists, presented by Sjahin, and by creating new music with different people.

“We are four and they all have a European background, but they have studied different types of music and they were really interested in this project and they fit the group. So, we asked them to join us from [the time of] doing our first album together when I started singing in Oshiwambo for the first time and I started digging into my family history.

“That was the personal beginning. Now we want to go deeper and really dive into those traditions, as we said we would in 2015,” Shishani explains.

Namibia Tales recorded a number of songs with the four grandmothers and produced eight songs. “We focus on the San people, because they are the most marginalised group in the country and they have such a rich culture that nobody is really looking into.

“And if seen from a tourist perspective of going to the village and have them perform in their traditional skins, but that is not really engaging them like partners, equals or like experts in their music, something we don’t know about,” she emphasised.

Shishani adds that the linguistic sounds used by San people are not widely understood, nor what their songs are about and their rhythms are super complex, so that at times they were left standing and listening without understanding anything.

Shishani says it took them time to listen, to analyse and try to grasp all the complexity of the music they recorded.

They plan to return in December to visit various villages and record music that still exists as part of a collection of songs for the Namibian musical museum that is expected to openg soon, thereby giving the singers recognition for their work.

“We just want to find out more about what the music means and where it comes from, because as the elder people pass on the music it also disappears with them. So, it is important and urgent to focus on them and capture what is still there, and to make something that young people will also relate to,” Shishani noted.

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