Saving Xhosa memories through melodies
If the goddess of Xhosa music, Latozi Mpahleni, didn’t exist, it would be impossible for a character like her to be created as a work of fiction.
No author could dream up someone who embodies such truth and candour.
Whether on or off the stage, Madosini — as she is known — carries her authenticity like the skin on her body.
Even describing her as an artist would be equivalent to bundling her up with a bunch of people on the brink of losing their minds. Madosini comes without the high levels of self-consciousness normally associated with that squad.
"Many years ago, the late musician Victor Ntoni came to the village with some white people. They invited anyone and everyone who had a skill to showcase. I played for them, and that was my first time playing for people from outside the village," Madosini says.
Through mastering traditional Xhosa instruments uhadi (bow), umrhubhe (mouth bow) and isitolotolo (jaw harp), she has secured her place in history. She is the master of instruments that urbanised musicians and audiences often dismiss as relics from the past.
They have become her weapons of choice in the quest to preserve indigenous music. As a storyteller, she narrates without any illusions or dilutions of modern practices, and that has become the hallmark of her unprocessed art.
"I’m from the rural areas and I’m very cautious of people from the city. When I did my first recording, it was a mission to convince me, and when I got to the building, they had to assure me it wasn’t a plot to kill me. I had never seen or been in an elevator before," Madosini says.
In 1995, her path crossed with Dizu Plaatjies and Mzwandile Qotoyi, who invited her to work on the recording of an indigenous album complemented by members of AmaMpondo. Her song Wen’useGoli was one of the soundtracks
for the Oscar-nominated film, Yesterday.
Madosini Indigenous Instruments Legacy Project was launched in 2016 in Cape Town, with one of its primary objectives being the transfer of her musical skills.
"I make these instruments and always encourage people of all ages to come to me and learn how to play and make these instruments. I’m old and when I go, I don’t want to take this with me," she says.
Her call was answered by a young duo called Found at Sea. They spent months learning from the master at her current home in Langa, Cape Town.
The results were delivered at a multigenerational performance in Stellenbosch in heritage month in 2017. The collaboration was well received and sparked a renewed interest in her music.
Madosini is returning to Stellenbosch in January, performing at the official opening of an exhibition that will focus on public art in the town. She is a paragon of the credo that art is an extension of life. However, she constantly casts herself outside the art scene, referring to others as "artists" but never herself.
Her daily practice at her rural homestead in Libode, Eastern Cape is part of everyday life. Madosini cannot read or write — not in the modern way. She writes with a bow, not a pen.
In the age of apps, double-clicks and "likes", it remains a mystery how she navigates through the technological maze. The outré in her mannerism seems to suggest she is more alive than the rest.
If there is a language the ancestors understand, it has to be Madosini’s art.
Listening to her music, thoughts and memories evoke images of rural landscapes in the former Transkei — elderly women puffing smoke through long thin pipes and young men fresh from initiation school walking tall and speaking with newly found aplomb.
• Madosini is performing at the Gallery University of Stellenbosch on January 31.