Reading for ‘African Spectralism’ in Latozi Mphahleni’s ‘Modokali’

  • Andile Khumalo


Many people have thought that the most exciting aspect of music from Africa is its rhythmic complexity. A variety of scholars, such as Reverend A.M. Jones, Simha Arom, and Kwabena Nketia, have all convincingly argued that rhythm seems to be the most prominent aspect of African music. This view has been solidified due to an imbalance in scholarly representation: research favours some areas of Africa, such as Central or West Africa, over others, and as a result has generated a partial view of African music, which highlights the significance of rhythm ahead of all other parameters. This paper proposes that a holistic view of music from other parts of Africa could challenge the established perception of rhythm as the only significant feature of music from Africa. It supports this argument by focusing on music from a hitherto neglected area: the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Through a critical analysis of a Xhosa traditional song called ‘Modokali’, the paper argues that in some parts of Africa, timbre plays a much more critical role than rhythm. It also contends that timbre is pivotal in understanding the relationship between music, language and culture within the South African context. In doing so, it expands the scope of analytical and interpretative approaches to African music in hitherto underexplored ways.


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eISSN: 0258-509X