STJ#1056, Thula Klizeo

One late December day in the mid 1990s, my partner Trish and I got in the car and drove from our home in Durham, NC, to spend Christmas with my family in Round Lake, NY. The drive is long – about 13 hours – and was usually broken up by little side trips to historic places and always the IKEA just south of DC. We always loaded up the car with music and audio books to keep us amused if the conversation lulled.

This particular trip, however, there was no lull. We hadn’t been on the road more than ten minutes when “Money” by Pink Floyd came on the mix.

“This (Dark Side of the Moon) has got to be one of the top five albums of all time,” Trish said. I agreed, and we began trying to pick the other five. Which soon became ten… and twenty-five… and fifty… as our list grew. Rumors. So. Blonde on Blonde. Never mind. Thriller. What’s Going On. Born in the USA. Our list kept growing. Some we argued against, but most we added to our increasingly unmanageable list. We debated and considered through bathroom breaks, meals, stops for gas.

Somewhere around Mahwah, NJ (where we paused to sing “to Mahwah, to Mahwah, I’m going to Mahwah, it’s only a mile away…”) I brought up Paul Simon’s Graceland, annoyed that I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

“Sure, it’s good,” Trish admitted, “but does it really belong on a top … whatever… list?”

My defense of the album included not just the great songwriting of Paul Simon – but of this incredible collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (especially “Homeless”). You see, the album came out in 1986, which means apartheid was still in force in South Africa. The group, led by today’s hymn composer Joseph Shabalala, had for decades been an incredibly popular and prolific group, so popular, they were the first black group to win a major music award. And while some saw Simon’s collaboration with them as breaking the anti-apartheid boycott, it did in fact help bring more awareness to the problem, and expose the world to the richness of traditional Zulu music, known as isicathamiya. Shabalala loved sharing his culture’s music, and the group continues to travel the world teaching their music and sharing a message of peace and love.

Our song today (I didn’t forget!) is a wonderful gift in that spirit, from Shabalala. It is an easy chant, and is a joy to sing, especially when you know what the Zulu means.

Thula klizeo, nala pase kaya.
Thula klizeo, nala pase kaya.
Hey kaya, nala pase kaya.
Hey kaya, nala pase kaya.

[Translation of Zulu: Be still my heart, even here I am at home.

Of course, use with care. This song is most meaningful when you remember that for a very long time, the indigenous peoples of South Africa were kept from their native lands by European colonialists (sound familiar?). It’s especially worth sharing this information, from the UUA Song Information page:

 A Zulu chant written by Joseph Shabalala on trip to New York City in 1988. He missed his home in South Africa, and with Apartheid still in effect, he did not know if he would ever be allowed to return. He said, “Be still my heart, even here I am at home.” You wouldn’t think that such a short song would have so much meaning behind it, but we’re talking a different paradigm than our paradigm of wordy hymns. The power in chants like Thula Klizeo is in the depth of the meaning, its connection to the traditions of the past and its defiance for a better tomorrow.

The song should be repeated a number of times! It should be performed a cappella with no percussion. Nick Page learned this song from Shabalala by rote, and Nick recommends teaching it by rote. It can be used in a procession as well as a dance.

By the way – while I didn’t know all of the history of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, my pleas for the greatness of this album won over Trish, and Graceland made it onto our imaginary, why didn’t we write this down, 13-hours-to-create list of the top albums of all time.

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