Hambani Kakuhle Kwela
Composed by Becky Steltzner
For Woodwind Quintet
Published by International Opus
Includes score and parts
A South African Pennywhistle Tune
This short, upbeat encore piece was composed by Cape Town Philharmonic clarinetist Becky Steltzner in the style of the popular South African Pennywhistle Tune known as the kwela (originally from the country of Malawi).
Kwela is a popular music style of Southern Africa. The word itself is Zulu, so its origins could be said to be from the country of South Africa. Although originally used in reference to vocal music, it was used in the 1950's to refer to bands of young boys playing pennywhistles in the townships. They were familiar with American swing, and in Johannesburg, the style was also called “jive.”
The international popularity of kwela blossomed in the Southern African country of Malawi in the 1960's. The style combined African and Western elements, and a group would include one or two acoustic guitars, one or more pennywhistles, and a double bass. The pennywhistle is played in such a way as to produce a full and round sound, louder than if played in a Western style. It also produces “bent” notes and blues notes. Kwela has since developed further, and 90's pop groups such as South Africa's Mango Groove have brought it again into popularity in a modern pop group setting.
This piece can be expanded if the people in the quintet can improvise. Bars 41-48 can be repeated with various members taking 8-bar solos, but if the horn player or bassoonist take solos, someone else must take over their lines. 8-bar solos can also be inserted before bar 71, or after bar 78. The flute part includes a notated “improvisation” which may be inserted at one of these spots.
“Hambini kakuhle” means “go well” in the Xhosa language. It is used instead of goodbye, because the African languages in this region literally don't have a word for goodbye, which says something about the culture. “Hamba” is the singular of the verb and “Hambani”, the plural, which addresses a group of people, making this kwela an appropriate way to end a program (a farewell to your audience).
A note on pronunciation: in Xhosa, an “h” in combination with any consonant makes the consonant “aspirated”; blow air though your mouth as you pronounce the consonant. If you are unsuccessful, then use the closest Western equivalent – pronounce the “hl” as “shl”, i.e. kah-koo-shle (e as in egg).