1st Edition

Bahlabelelelani – Why Do They Sing? Gender and Power in Contemporary Women’s Songs

By Nompumelelo Zondi Copyright 2024

    Indigenous societies, steeped in patriarchy, have various channels through which they deal with abusive characteristics of relations in some of these communities. One such route is through songs, which sanction women to voice that which, bound by societal expectations, they would not commonly be able to say.

    This book focuses on the nature of women’s contemporary songs in the rural community of Zwelibomvu, near Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal. It aims to answer the question ‘Bahlabelelelani – Why do they sing?’, drawing on several discourses of gender and power to examine the content and purposes of the songs. Restricted by custom, women resort to allusive languages, such as found in ukushoza, a song genre that includes poetic elements and solo dance songs. The songs, when read in conjunction with the interviews and focus group discussions, present a complex picture of women’s lives in contemporary rural KwaZulu-Natal, and they offer their commentary on what it means to be a woman in this society.



    1. Introduction: Women’s Songs in a Patriarchal Society

    2. A Theoretical Framework for the Analysis of Women’s Songs

    3. Popular Songs in African Contexts: An Overview of the Literature

    4. The Performance Settings of the Zwelibomvu Women’s Songs

    5. Gender and Power in Contemporary Women’s Songs

    6. Composition and Circulation of Contemporary Women’s Songs

    7. Conclusion: Bahlabelelelani-ke – Why Then, Do They Sing?


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    Nompumelelo Zondi is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of African Languages at the University of Pretoria.

    ‘Seziyosengwa yinkehli! (There is power in a woman’s voice). This inspiring book by a woman writer gives other women a platform to tell their stories in the best African way possible – ngomculo (through music).

    Boni Zungu, Senior Lecturer: African Languages, University of the Witwatersrand