Durban to host first International Bow Music Conference

Bow instruments are central to many of the continent’s traditional music practices. Recognising this, the music cluster within the School of Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa will be hosting the first International Bow Music Conference from 24 to 27 February.

Dr Sazi Dlamini, convener of the first International Bow Music Conference. Photo:
Dr Sazi Dlamini, convener of the first International Bow Music Conference. Photo:

Convened by a team led by UKZN lecturer and well-known township jazz exponent Dr Sazi Dlamini, news of the upcoming event has already garnered a wave of passionate interest from local and international bow music practitioners, as well ethnomusicological research academics from as far afield as the US, Brazil, Europe and the neighbouring SADC countries of Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

While it is an academic gathering, the Bow Music Conference will be opening its doors to public attendance at paper presentations, workshops and discussions that will focus on diverse topics on global bow musical practices. The conference acknowledges the widespread indigenous occurrence of musical bows both in Africa and in far-flung areas of the globe, as well as the growing research and public interest on bow music.

The keynote address at the conference will be given by the eminent bow music professor David Dargie, a retired monk who brought to the world’s attention Xhosa women’s umrhubhe mouth-bow playing and the mesmerizing overtone singing techniques of Ngqoko village women of the Lady Frere area in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

The Bow Music Conference will include a programme of musical performances that will showcase Southern African musical bows such as the Xhosa uhadi and ikatari; the Sotho lesiba, sekhankuri and lekope; the Venda thomochizambi and chipendani mouthbows found in Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe; and sitolotolomakhoyanaumqangala and makhweyana (Zulu & Swati). During the conference some of these bows will be displayed in a curated exhibition of indigenous musical instruments at the KZNSA Gallery.

Performers scheduled to show off their skills at the conference include Matali Kheoana (Lesotho), Bhemani Magagula (Swaziland), Khokhiwe Mphila (Swaziland), Mestre Cobra Mansa (aka Cinezio Pecanha from Brazil/Angola), Ngqoko Cultural Group (SA) and the world-famous Madosini (aka Latozi Mpahleni). 

A significant presence in the conference is that of the famous Afro-Brazillian musical bow, the berimbau, the calabash-resonated musical bow closely associated with capoeira, the internationally popular dance/martial art first practiced by African slaves in Brazil. Several scholarly presentations will focus on the berimbau’s African origins as well as the instrument’s relationship to widespread Bantu bow cultures of Africa’s sub-Saharan region. The programme will include screenings of director Richard Pakleppa’s documentary film Jogo de Corpo (Body Games), which traces the roots of capoeira and of the berimbau to Angola. 

Conference presentations will take place at UKZN’s Innovation Centre in Durban on 24, 25 and 26 February. Entrance is free upon registration. The film and concert series take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at Howard College Campus UKZN from 25 to 27 February. Tickets will be available through Computicket. 

Daytime events at the KZNSA on Saturday 27 February include a workshop on musical bow-making, an indigenous musical instrument exhibition and an Angolan capoeira roda conducted by Mestre Cobra Mansa from Salvador, Bahia-Brazil.

For more information go to the Bow Conference website or Facebook page, or email


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