Thursday, July 24, 2008



This is Madosini, a traditional Xhosa musician from the Transkei in South Africa, now based in Cape Town. She came to Brighton last night to say hello - the last time we met was years ago when the children were very little so there were the usual oohs and aaahs to celebrate their growth towards adulthood. Madosini's playing at Womad this weekend, which I can't make, but at the kitchen table after supper, she played for six of us, her voice stretching into the back garden and over the walls, seeping into the last of the light and the dark blue sky. She made sense of the word charisma.

Her visit was like a marker, in a way. It's my son's first proper camping trip alone this weekend, at Womad, with friends and after she'd gone to bed and we were sitting chatting, he said it felt like Christmas Eve. I keep returning to the same sense of awe when I think of what it's like to be a teenager, in the summer, with all that scented time ahead, long evenings and beaches. My daughter's only just finished school and she's still in wonder at the thought of weeks without uniform, packed lunches and registration.

But back to Madosini. She's known in South Africa as the queen of Xhosa music. She's the most accomplished player of the mouth harp and jew's harp, which she was taught by her mother. She also plays the instrument so associated with capoeira, the berimbau, but it originated in southern Africa and there is called the uhadi. Her music's part of an important tradition, linked to ceremony and everyday life and she's sought out for performances and collaborations. She's currently working with some classical violinists but at Womad is performing solo.

Her work's available on the net but Madosini's yet to become rich from it. She's been ripped off and exploited shamelessly at times. Now she's supporting her seven grandchildren, alone.

She's a generous woman. As we listened last night, it was like a gift from her village, moments that more than made up for not being able to make the trek along the M4. Madosini's music has a depth and emotional integrity that's truly rare. She's apparently a great story-teller and I could imagine how she'd so easily sweep an audience away. A solo album, Power to the Women, is on Melt 2000 Blue Room. You can find her on YouTube too.

I have been thinking a lot about the power of the everyday. What Madosini does is start there - with tunes to send a child to sleep, rhythms to wind down to at the end of the day, simple refrains that everyone can repeat. She draws power from the everyday, she makes it special and for that reason I think, she is so important. She has the insight and experience of life to know that it is how we live from moment to moment that determines who we are. She also has the confidence to stay with those traditions and not be deflected. Like Neruda in many ways, in his odes for ordinary things, in his repeated celebration of love and his final questions - that pepper everyone's days.