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Isicathamiya, one of the first African genres to infiltrate Western music, was greatly influenced by its Zulu origins and Western society in its creation. The foundations of isicathamiya lie in Zulu culture, which created the melodies, as well as other important aspects, of isicathamiya. Isicathamiya was then shaped by missionaries and minstrel performers' influence on traditional Zulu music. It later developed into isicathamiya's early forms, becoming increasingly spread by migrant workers, and then by recordings and radio. The style of isicathamiya has been created by the reactions of Zulu people and culture to Western ideas.
Isicathamiya started with music from Zulu tradition, and evolved with the interaction between the Zulu culture and Western culture. The musical tradition of the Zulus started with their warriors, who used songs to build morale, creating "an immense wealth of traditional music" (Nightsongs 4). This music, along with Zulu wedding songs, was the source for isicathamiya's melodies (Nelligan 25). Solomon Linda, an early artist of isicathamiya, sang at celebrations and weddings before he wrote songs, and used them in his compositions that helped establish the new genre (Malan). Isicathamiya has a call and response structure, where a leader sings a melody and the group repeats or responds to that melody, which also comes from Zulu culture; call and response is a "format of performance common in Africa" (Muller 277). Another aspect of isicathamiya arose when Westerners starting taking territory from the Zulus; tensions rose and groups and families began fighting against each other (Nightsongs 228). Zulus eased this tension with "stick fighting" contests and, after that competition became too violent, ignoma, a dance competition (Nightsongs 228). These contests have influenced isicathamiya's performance form; isicathamiya competitions developed and are an important part of isicathamiya today (Nightsongs 228). Zulu tradition founded the basis for the further development of isicathamiya.
Missionaries arrived in South Africa in the 1840s, and greatly influenced Zulu music with Christian hymns (Muller 253). Hymns performed by the Christian missionaries influenced wedding songs, shifting the already polyphonic music of the Zulus to a more Western style (Nightsongs 54). Wedding songs used to be more disorderly, and Western music brought the standardization of four-part harmony, making wedding songs "the first repertoire to be westernized" (Nightsongs 54-55). The missionaries made the I-IV-V progression become an essential progression, influenced the "melodic contour" of songs, created a four-bar phrasing standard, and discouraged the use of "fourths as melodic intervals" (Nightsongs 56). The missionaries also influenced isicathamiya by encouraging the solo and chorus parts to start together, rather than having staggered entrances, a common aspect in Zulu music (Nightsongs 56). Missionaries influenced Zulu music in melodic, harmonic, and stylistic ways that lead to the later styles of isicathamiya.
Isicathamiya started to evolve in the 1890s, a time when the colonization of Africa was starting to overrule the cultural systems already in place, bringing the nation together under one economic system (Nightsongs 46). Orpheus McAdoo was the African American leader of the Virginia Jubilee Singers, a spiritual group that toured South Africa in the 1890s (Muller 50). Â McAdoo's group performed black minstrel shows, which even for their "crude caricatures of blacks," became very popular and became an important part of South African music (Nightsongs 47). In contrast with the "dirges" taught by white missionaries, they sang songs with a "subversively rhythmic intensity," that became very popular and spread throughout Zulu culture (Muller 50, Malan). These minstrel shows also introduced style elements into the developing genre; "polished uniforms, often with white gloves and spats" became a part of isicathamiya "rooted" in minstrel performances (Fargion). Thembinkosi Pewa, who was an early isicathamiya performer, said that his "oldest brothers, the first to sing isicathamiya, were the Jubilee Brothers" (Nightsongs 47). The ignoma style that arouse from stick fighting began to merge with the ragtime that was becoming increasingly popular (Nightsongs 54). The merge of Western styles with traditional music created the basis for isicathamiya to grow.
Western practices also influenced isicathamiya with the beginnings of industrialization. Â When the vast gold and diamond resources of South Africa were discovered, blacks were "forcedâ€¦ into what became one of the harshest structures of people in the South African countryside" (Muller 201). Â Men left home for the cities to work in the mines of Johannesburg and Kimberly, housing in the Durban ports, or as servants, so when they sang these songs the women's parts (women stayed at home) were sung by men (Muller 51, 118). Â The migrants' lifestyle also affected the genre; "longing for home" was a common subject for the lyrics of isicathamiya (Muller 24). The migrant nature of these men's jobs exposed them to the genres that would be incorporated into isicathamiya. The "ragtime" and "vaudeville" groups that came to South Africa went to the cities, where the men working there could see them perform (Nightsongs 48). The showcasing of urban music for migrant workers allowed Western styles to be spread to more rural areas, allowing isicathamiya to be established.
Isicathamiya started to become popular in the 1920s and 1930s in the "KwaZulu-Natal midlands" of South Africa (Farigon). Â Some of the first groups, such as the Crocodiles and the Amanzimtoti, sang "anything from traditional and modernized... wedding songs to hymns, folk tunes, and material of the isikhunzi category," an early form of isicathamiya influenced by ragtime (Nightsongs 48, 59). Â In the 1930s, the economic development in South Africa created the cultural foundations that allowed isicathamiya to develop; during this time imbube, "the first genuine isicathamiya style" developed (Nightsongs 60). Â The leader of its development was Solomon Linda. Linda created his group, the Evening Birds, while working in Johannesburg, after the group he was in disbanded (Nightsongs 61). His group first sang for weddings, but then performed in "choir competitions and concerts on the Reef that was concentrated in 'hostels,' location halls, and compounds," where musical inspiration was abundant (Nightsongs 61). After Linda got a job at a record-pressing plant, his group was found by Gallo, a recording company, and "Mubue" "one of Linda's songsâ€¦topped the list of the country's best-selling recordings for the African listenership" (Nightsongs 61). He influenced the genre by strengthening the parts with additional singers, especially the bass part, and by wearing "group uniforms and striped suits" that signaled "urban sophistication," which is still present today in best-dressed contests held at isicathamiya contests (Nightsongs 66, 67). The form of music Linda sang would later be known as isicathamiya.
The name isicathamiya developed from the dances that accompanied it. The dances done in rural places were too violent and hurt the floors of urban settings, so the singers had to tiptoe dance (Malan). Isicathamiya evolved from the phrase "Cothoza, bafana," which means "tread carefully boys," and the word ukucathama, which means "to walk stealthily, like a cat" (Malan, Muller 125). With Linda's leadership, isicathamiya developed and became one of South Africa's many forms of popular music.