Has Anyone Heard Yakhal’ Inkomo? Listening to the voices of South Africa’s Jazz Community

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Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’ (‘The Bellowing Bull’) has become an iconic South African jazz standard, it’s commercial success making the question ‘Has anyone heard the bellowing bull?’ seem redundant. But we know that for South Africans exactly what, and how, they heard is contingent on who they were. (Nkwe, 1968; Ngozi, 2003 in Ansell; Mothle, 2010)

Such combined narratives are historically interesting and appear to include the subaltern’s voice, (Spivak, 1988) but in seeking a postcolonial perspective can we claim these as an expression of Bhabha’s ‘right to narrate’? Bhabha advocates ‘a right of intervention in the telling of histories’ but one that is ‘interdisciplinary, in a basic sense’ (Huddard, 2006). For Bhabha ‘the right to narrate might inhabit a hesitant brush stroke, be glimpsed in a gesture that fixes a dance movement, become visible in a camera angle that stops your heart’ (2003) … and for music it may reside in the ‘tremendous articulateness [that] is syncopated with the African drumbeat.’ (West in Bhabha, 1994).

Perhaps, therefore, we should look to Ngozi’s saxophonic intervention, yakhal’ inkomo as rendered in performance. If, as Kofi Agawu insists, ‘African popular music is finally music, not social text or history’ we must therefore ‘give due attention to the musical elements’. (Agawu, 2003) Additionally Agawu requires that we interrogate ‘our love for certain ways of theorizing’ and develop a critical framework that takes cognisance of musicians’ conceptions in order not to impose ‘inappropriate ontological schemes’. So where exactly do we look for these musical interventions? Are the musical sites theorized by contemporary North American analytic methods relevant?

This paper will attempt to answer these questions by drawing on the thinking of a number of South African jazz musicians, both in interviews with the author and as relayed in various secondary sources.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2011
EventRhythm Changes: Jazz and National Identities Conference - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 1 Sept 20114 Sept 2011


ConferenceRhythm Changes: Jazz and National Identities Conference


  • Jazz
  • South Africa

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