By Danica Hansen
Celebrating Zulu heritage with songs this month were The Baobab Sisters, an acapela group from Denmark. Here in Durban during heritage month, the group of eight singers performed carefully practiced isiZulu songs among other National languages. The Baobab Sisters have been learning South African songs in isiZulu and Xhosa (to name a few) since 2009 under the leadership of Rikke Forchhammer, also from Denmark, who was captured by ‘African music’ as a teenager living in Tanzania from 1969-1972.
The group performed for much loved former president, Nelson Mandela at his 78th birthday in Port Elizabeth. While they enjoy fine tuning a traditional sound, the Baobab Sisters have collaborated with well-known SA accapella group, The Soil to experiment with modern melodies and sung with the Maskandi backdrop of local musicians David ‘Qadasi’ Jenkins and Maqinga Radebe.
Most of the singers in the group have been harmonising in song since the group’s inception some eight years ago. “I was invited to an audition and thought it sounded super interesting, a lot of choir music in Denmark is more classical which I don’t find that interesting, but African music has a different feeling, with the rhythm and harmonies, ” said Henny Hagerop (28), who has been singing with the Baobab Sisters since the beginning.
Drawn to the rhythm of Africa, one singer said the music had a depth and uniqueness that transcended language. “It’s a sound that you don’t hear anywhere- at least not in Europe, the feeling of the South African songs is a unique sound, it’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s got a lot of soul, a lot of feeling and even though we are singing in a language that we don’t speak, we still get a feeling of the meaning behind the song,” said Cipa Pape.
Respect for the culture behind the music is integral to the group and learning the song’s meaning forms part of the routine. “South African call music has something very special – a very special sound and also, because of the history of South Africa, some of the songs are very strong, very political, while others are everyday songs about weddings and such- I just fell in love with the South African sound,” said Forchhammer who studied music in Copenhagen and specialised in African music.
Their recent visit marked The Baobab Sisterís seventh trip to Durban. “I really love Durban because itís very African- Cape Town is quite European and Johannesburg is not as charming,” said Forchhammer.