Seminar: Dr Fraser McNeill on Rural Reggae: Popular Music and the Bantustan Government in Venda

Posted on May 05, 2011

The Department of Anthropology and Archaeology seminar series, Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 11:00

"Rural Reggae: The Politics of Performance in the Former Homeland of Venda" By Dr Fraser McNeill

Prof Innocent Pikirayi,
the Head of the
Department Anthropology and Archaeology at the
University of Pretoria
hereby cordially invites you to attend:


“Rural Reggae: Popular Music and the Bantustan Government in Venda”

Dr Fraser McNeill

Department of Anthropology and Archaeology

University of Pretoria



With the Broadcasting Amendment Act of 1960, the South African government began to regulate forms of entertainment intended for public and private consumption. Radio broadcasts were controlled and musical recordings were regulated under this and subsequent legislation, with over 100 albums being banned outright and many more individual songs classified as ‘undesirable’. This legislation was applicable in the homelands, and musical productions – especially for SABC Radio Bantu – were censored. However, enforcing censorship laws in terms of live performances in the homelands proved more problematic. Whilst the evidence from Venda lends some support to the established, romantic notion that musicians – and their music – were deeply embedded in the struggle against apartheid, there is equal evidence to suggest that many musicians at the time had little interest in revolutionary activity. Whilst self censorship was prevalent on many levels, the motivation for this was not clear cut. Christian convictions that those in power had been put there by God, or the liberating conviction that musicians were ‘simply entertainers’ and not politicians, prompted musicians to abide by censorship laws. Even for those who were politically aware, challenging the system was generally perceived to be not worth the risk. In the former homeland of Venda, important exceptions to this stem from one family – the Mukwevho of Tshitomboni – whose most famous son, Colbert, made himself a target of the state by adopting reggae as his genre of choice. By charting Colbert’s transition as a musician from the late 1970s to the present day, this paper demonstrates that musicians in the former homeland of Venda had more freedom to record and perform ‘undesirable’ songs than has previously been accepted. However it does not follow that they all did so. The story of the Mukwevho family shows how different artists reacted in diverse ways to the political situation in which they found themselves.

Tuesday 10 May 2011, 11:00-12:30

Humanities Building, Room 8-18


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