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International Music Resources by Country: South Africa

International Music Resources offers an array of online and physical resources both freely available and/or offered by the George F. DeVine Music Library. The information included in these guides may serve as a starting point for the study and research of

Cape Town panoramic photo

Citation (1)

Map of South Africa

Map of South Africa

Citation (2)


Garland Encyclopedia of World Music-South Africa

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Africa Cover Art

Online Resources

Streaming Video: Mkhwenyana (Hochzeitslied/Chant Nuptial)

Flag of South Africa

South Africa flag


The Republic of South Africa occupies the southern extremity of the African mainland. After 1948 the National Party introduced the doctrine of apartheid, which led to white supremacy. In 1990 the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC) was legalized, and its leader, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison. All remaining apartheid laws were repealed in 1991. The ANC won the majority of votes cast in legislative elections in 1994, and Mandela was elected President. Mandela formally retired from active politics following elections in 1999, at which the ANC was returned to power, and Thabo Mbeki became President. In September 2008 Mbeki resigned and, following legislative elections in April 2009, was replaced by Jacob Zuma. The ANC retained its legislative majority in elections held in May 2014. In February 2018 Zuma, who had been embroiled in a number of corruption scandals, resigned from the presidency and was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa. The administrative capital is Pretoria, the legislative capital is Cape Town, and the judicial capital is Bloemfontein. There are 11 official languages.

Citations (3 and 4)

South African Music (Grove Music Online)

Nguni Music

Nguni is the name applied collectively to the Zulu, Swazi and Xhosa peoples of south-eastern Africa, the largest indigenous group in the country. Their languages and cultures are closely related, and their traditional music is more vocal than instrumental, polyphonic dance-songs being particularly important.

Strange as it may seem for an African people, the Nguni have no history of drums or percussion ensembles as a basis for their communal dancing. Dancers always sang their own dance music, and although ankle rattles and hand-clapping were sometimes added, the basis of their collective music-making was the unaccompanied dance-song. War-shields were sometimes used percussively by warriors in earlier days, and oxhides were beaten at Xhosa boys’ initiation ceremonies. Drums were not, however, entirely unknown. Medicine men sometimes used them, and a type of friction drum was employed at girls’ coming-of-age ceremonies among the Zulu. Improvised drums and wooden clappers are now used in certain neo-traditional art forms, such as modern Zulu ingoma dancing. Essentially, however, it is clear that in the past the Nguni have specialized in developing vocal polyphony rather than instrumental ensembles or rhythmic complexity.

A striking feature of traditional Nguni choral dance-songs is the principle of non-simultaneous entry of voice parts, and the intricacy of their polyphonic interaction. There are always at least two voice parts with different starting-points; their phrases frequently overlap, but there is usually no common cadence point where the parts achieve a combined resolution. Instead, each voice returns to its starting-point as in a round (though the parts are not identical), and the process is continually repeated. Variations commonly occur in the leading voice part, while the chorus maintains a constant ostinato. The alignment of the interacting parts is fundamental in such music. This concept is felt so intrinsically that an individual singer, if asked to demonstrate a traditional choral song, will not merely render a single voice part but will always attempt to present the essentials of at least two parts, the leader and the chorus, by jumping from one to the other whenever a new phrase entry is due.

Citation (5)

Listen to South African Music!

South Africa: Zulù Polyphony Album Art

Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo-Zulu Guitars Dance: Maskana from South Africa  Album Art

Iphupho: A Cappella from South Africa Album Art






(5): Rycroft, D., Impey, A., Barz, G., Blacking, J., Kruger, J., Marivate, C., Mears, C., May, J., & Coplan, D.  (2001). South Africa, Republic of. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 5 June 2023, from