The paper discusses ways in which the song form known as isicathamiya mediates subjectivity on a national and transnational scale in the new post-1994 era, known by isiZulu speakers as uhlel' olusha. Singers are constantly testing the limits of the genre, both through the choice of subject matter for songs and in their performance style. They take it in new directions and through the "embodied knowledge" they display, they engage in emergent and established discourses on the nature of contemporary South African, and Zulu, identity. Singers align themselves and their audiences to the global through commentary in song on events such as 9/11 and this itself becomes a shifting topic of choral conversation through time, reflecting, among other items, changing responses to America and to "Bin Laden." The paper also explores the different publics with which performers interact and argues that a group such as the famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which now performs mainly on global circuits, has to limit its discourse accordingly; it cannot engage with urgent and topical events that inform social consciousness within South Africa as freely as groups more closely in touch with their local constituencies. The paper also sketches the history of the genre and sets the overall discussion within a paradigm of popular culture and the political; it draws on work by Catherine Cole, Johannes Fabian, Veit Erlmann, and Louise Meintjes.


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pp. 83-97
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