Bushmen of the Kalahari

Bushmen Of The KalahariMaking music is the most primeval form of human expression, imbued with a mystical power to communicate at an instinctual level that transcends language and speaks directly to the soul. The San Bushmen - the indigenous people of the southern African region are Africa's oldest inhabitants, having lived in the region for approximately twenty-five thousand years. For them, music and dance are not merely creative expressions, but an integral part of their being. 

Albums: 

  1. Bushmen of the Kalahari
  2. Sanscapes Vol. 1
  3. Sanscapes Vol. 2
  4. Pops Mohamed - How Far We Have Come

An essential element of the San cultural identity is their medicine dance and music, in which they use rhythm to heal both the individual and the collective. The medicine men have a supernatural potency within them called n/um that enables them to cure sickness. To activate this substance they dance and sing, creating sounds and a tempo that heats the n/um, causing it to rise up to their heads and evoke trance. Tragically, after decades of systematic marginalisation and dislocation, the modern world threatens these ancient people, their culture as hunter-gatherers, and their strange and beautiful music. The San involved in both the original Melt recordings Pops Mohamed Presents the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and the remix projects come from an area of Namibia called the Omaheke Region, bordering with Botswana. In May 2001 four San musician !Gube Tietei, Anna,Kuela and Marcela visited England to launch the SanScape Project. Performing with Pops Mohamed and Zena Edwards, the artists were reunited after their success at the . There are over twenty different San groups distinguished by their language spread over Southern Africa. There are seven different San groups in Namibia with !Gube, Anna, and Marcela from the Noa, based in the corridor in the Omaheke Region. Kuela is from the Dcuikhoe tribe in Botswana.  

 

Comment by Pops Mohamed

In the late eighties I saw the slow death and vanishing of indigenous music on radio stations as South Africa was entering a new era which was dubbed the New South Africa, or better known as the Rainbow Nation. Everybody was looking forward to this new future with high hopes and dreams BUT, some of us forgot where we were coming from.

In the beginning of the nineties I decided to help save traditional music from disappearing and started looking for music from the Kalahari to study, but couldn't find anything in record stores. I wasn't interested in reading the many books that were available because no matter how much I read these books it still wouldn't bring me any closer to this music and it's people. It was time to go to the Kalahari myself to see why this intrigued me so much. So together with MELT2000 we set off to the desert.

It became immediately apparent that these were amongst the most peaceful people in the world. Their music blew me away. The trance dance of the San people is something out of this world. The San people have been ripped off in many ways - their lands and rights taken away from them. But, the one thing no-one could, or can take away from them is their pride, their culture, their traditions and most of all...their music. This has been with them for over 45 thousand years and will be with them until this world comes to an end. The medicine dance will 'heal them into the future' as it has done in the past.

I firmly believe this music should be kept alive in all art forms, 'cos that's the only way we can educate the younger generation of tomorrow. To bring the culture to them in a way they can relate to and understand while at the same time providing access to the original music. I feel honoured to be performing this music with them- for being taught the way of the San, and I want to thank you, the listener from the bottom of my heart for helping us fight back. Your contribution will help protect this music from disappearing. What you have in your hand is musical history of the first mankind...The San. Enjoy and spread the word of music from 'Ancient Ambient Africa' (AAA).

Later !

Pops Mohamed, Artist & Project leader of the "Bushmen of the Kalahari" recordings
December 2000, Johannesberg, South Africa

Pops Mohamed, the veteran South African musician and key player in the Outernational Meltdown, the preservation of indigenous musical forms has become his life's work.  For years, Pops had sought in vain to discover the music of the Khoisan but all he had been able to find was a documentary recording in the archives of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and, from then on, he knew that he must go to the desert to find for himself the sounds that are captured on this album, the first release on the MELT label.

In July, 1995, Pops Mohamed, Peter Thwaites, Libera & Robert Trunz, Pop, Dick Jewell, Ben Watkins  & Norma Fletcher from Juno Reactor Productions - all from different backgrounds and cultures ,went on an unforgettable journey to the Namibian 'korridors', near the border with Botswana to record with the San family of !Gubi Tietei. Beyond the international sporting grounds where rich tourists go hunting with their cameras, this region is off the maps given out by rental car companies. To travel there is like going on a pilgrimage to discover the very soul of Africa. 

The remaining San inhabit an austere environment with hardly any greenery left because of the soil erosion that has taken place since the bushmen were removed from their traditional hunting grounds, all over Namibia, and forced to become cattle farmers. Today, without land and barely able to support themselves, the bushmen eke out a desperate existence but their spirit is indomitable and, with the support of the Nyae Nyae Farmer's Co-operative, they are now learning to organise and to demand their fundamental human rights.

alt Upon arrival, after negotiating with the chief, we had a huge barbecue and then there was singing and dancing the whole night long. It was the most wonderful welcome any of us had ever experienced in our entire lives and the prelude to a few magical days and nights as their guests and sharing with them our food and whatever we had brought with us. The Khoisan may not have a lot, but they are one of the few people today who still understand that in order to survive, we must respect the earth and be thankful for its treasures. No matter how sparse, nature provides. Over three days we listened to and recorded their stories and their music from a makeshift studio set up in the back of a 4X4. It was the most inspirational experience of my life. All of us had our hearts opened to a new way of being that has been hidden so far away from us, and made us realise that we in the so-called first world have become so sophisticated that we have lost touch with the elemental concerns that preoccupy those primitive people, who inhabit the third world. The process of evolution has brought mankind a long way since the dawn of time but, really, how far have we come?


 

SAN HISTORY

The San Bushmen - the indigenous people of southern Africa are Africa's oldest inhabitants, having lived in the region for over twenty - five thousand years. Throughout history they thrived in one of the most hostile environments in the world, living as semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers in the arid areas of Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Well known for their rich legacy of rock art that can be found leaping off the walls of mountain ranges across the continent, the San have strong cultural traditions that until recently remained relatively untouched.

The San were first colonised over one thousand years ago by the traditionally cattle-herding Bantu tribes who moved south from mainly eastern Africa. Colonisation continued with the arrival of the Europeans who forced their way northwards from the Cape in southern Africa. These land-hungry pastoralist groups dispossessed the San of their land base and consequently their natural resources. A people once numbering millions who roamed freely across their ancestral land, the San are now approximately 100,000 strong and are dominated by pastoralists who control most of their land. It is estimated that only 10% of the present San population still have access to their former natural resources, and only 3% are currently allowed to manage their natural resources and exercise their traditional hunting rights.

This land and resource loss has had an extensively negative impact on the San, particularly in terms of limiting their prospects for living according to their age-old cultures. No longer able to hunt freely, their survival in the desert gets harder by the day. Aside from the physical needs hunting fulfils it is also central in both their religious and ritual lives. Not only are they left hungry but they also face increasing social problems as a result of their inability to continue living in a way that is fundamental to their culture and identity.

The San consider their cultural practices to constitute the backbone of a healthy and socially intact community. The disruptions to an indigenous culture caused by injustices such as land and resource dispossession are such that the affected community is unable to uphold its traditional consensual decision-making processes. This decision making process was integral in maintaining the egalatarian nature of the San, a unique feature of their culture. Unable to hunt and roam freely their social organisation has had to change dramatically as they have had to deal with issues such as land and resource management, discrimination, and the encroaching outside world.

Dispossession continues today through so called reintegration and resettlement processes under the independent governments of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Relocated in the name of "development" mainly to establish wildlife reserves and tourist activities, or caught in the crossfire of political conflict, the San are forced to live in corridors, much like the Indian reservations in North America. In such camps they can no longer hunt and are tortured, even killed in Botswana for trying to maintain this age old tradition that they depend on. The claims of the Botswana Government that these people are an environmental hazard to the reserve is hard to reconcile with the same governments enthusiasm for diamond mining in that area.

Many San people have become servants or cheap farm labourers in order to be able to feed their family and as such their only solace is often to be found in a bottle of homebrew or liquor which they are paid in for their labour. Such a situation breeds alcoholism and violence reminiscent of many of the marginalised indigenous minorities around the world. Suffering from discrimination, loss of land, forced cultural change, exploitation, hunger and poor health they are now striving to find ways of empowering themselves in order to maintain pride in their culture.