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When Culturally Significant Songs are Decontextualised: The Initiation Song Somagwaza, A Case Study

T Dowling, Somikazi Deyi, Anele Gobodwana


While there have been a number of studies on the decontextualisation and secularisation of traditional ritual music in America, Taiwan and other parts of the globe, very little has been written on the processes and transformations that South Africa’s indigenous ceremonial songs go through over time. This study was prompted by the authors’ interest in, and engagement with the Xhosa initiation song Somagwaza, which has been re-imagined as a popular song, but has also purportedly found its way into other religious spaces. In this article, we attempted to investigate the extent to which the song Somagwaza is still associated with the Xhosa initiation ritual and to analyse evidence of it being decontextualised and secularised in contemporary South Africa. Our methodology included an examination of the various academic treatments of the song, an analysis of the lyrics of a popular song, bearing the same name, holding small focus group discussions, and distributing questionnaires to speakers of isiXhosa on the topic of the song. The data gathered were analysed using the constant comparative method of analysing qualitative research.

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