Music from Namibia? Putting the South African Nation on the World Music Map

There is only one commercially available compilation of music from Namibia in Europe, "A Handful of Namibians"

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Shisani and the Namibian Tales band. From left to right: Sjahin During on percussion, vocalist, guitarist Shisani Vranckx, Debby Korfmacher (Germany) on mbira, kora, voice, and Bence Huszaron cello. (Photo: Eric van Nieuwland) (VOA)

Hands up anyone who has ever heard music from Namibia! This large corner of Southern Africa seems to have dropped off the world music map, but that may be changing. At this year’s World Music Expo in Spain, VOA caught up with a young Namibian-born musicologist who is blending the old and the new.

There’s only one compilation of music from Namibia that is commercially available in Europe. Called “A Handful of Namibians,” it was released in 2004. Since then: nothing. But Shisani is changing all that.

“Hello everyone, my name is Shisani. I’m from Namibia, from the Netherlands, from Belgium… I’m a songwriter, a musicologist. I’ve researched different styles of music in the development of music history of Namibia.”

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Namibiab-born vocalist and guitarist Shisani Vranckx. (Courtesy photo: Eric van Nieuwland)
Namibian-born vocalist and guitarist Shisani Vranckx. (Courtesy photo: Eric van Nieuwland) (VOA)

Namibia is a crossroads: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Germany – all run through its turbulent national story – and its music. Recording the original sound and converting it into something new is what Shisani does.

She was born of mixed parentage in the Namibian capital Windhoek. At the age of five, she moved to the Netherlands and started her musicology study.

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“Growing up in Europe…there was no access to Namibian music. In 20 years, I only found one CD from Namibia, which was an ethnographic recording of the Bushmen people, the San people…Soul music, jazz,r&b, hip hop – that was the kind of stuff that was accessible to me, growing up as a child in Europe,” said Shisani. “There were no African artists on MTV or TMF when I was watching TV…”

All these influences are now coming together in a new band: Shisani and the Namibian Tales.

Featuring herself on voice and guitar, a German player of the Zimbabwean mbira, a Hungarian cello player and a Turkish-Dutch percussionist, the band has been exploring and expanding the traditional sounds from Namibia.

“We’re going to do a collaboration with the San people in the Kalahari, with the idea of creating new musical performances and hopefully touring as well…,” said Shisani.

This approach, Shisani thinks, can be replicated across the continent, where traditions are old but have never been static. And now she is taking her musical hybrid around the world.

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“We have played in various European countries,” said Shisani. “We’re visiting Pakistan in December. We are fortunate to be traveling so much and promoting Namibia and its culture in other places in the world.’

Shisani and the Namibian Tales have just released a new album, Itaala, and are already confirmed for various concerts in the Netherlands in 2017. (VOA)

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