College of Human Sciences

Unisa's music expert garners prestigious awards

Unisa's multi-award-winning music lecturer, Ndabo Zulu, never ceases to shine as the institution's Department of Art and Music collaboration with the entertainment industry recently garnered multiple awards for his soundtrack Shaka Inkosi Yamakosi. Zulu represents the department and Unisa as a composer and performer in the film and music industry, reflecting the institution's calibre of academic staff and their outputs in their areas of expertise.

Unisa's music expert, Ndabo Zulu

The Department of Art and Music, housed under the College of Human Sciences, is home to the disciplines of art history, visual multimedia arts, music and the Unisa Art Gallery. In addition, it offers integrated programmes in music technology, film and animation. Furthermore, it aims to establish itself as a centre for digital arts excellence with solid ties to the entertainment industry. 

The soundtrack Zulu composed for a Netflix animation recently won the Best Animation Award at the Paris Cinema Awards. In addition, it received the Best Short Film Animation Award at the Genesis International Film Festival and the Best South African Short Film Award at the Durban International Film Festival for incorporating indigenous instruments.

Zulu says: "It is exciting that soon I will be doing this type of production utilising the soon-to-be-built recording studio at Unisa." He adds: "I also look forward to transferring knowledge and creating these kinds of opportunities for Unisa students."

Zulu's interest in music started at a tender age and he attended a school with a marching band as an extra-mural activity. The band contributed immensely to his music career. He found making music an easy process, and his passion kept growing. He studied a Master of Music in Composition, specialising in jazz composition and performance at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.


Inspired by indigenous history

Zulu remarks that his father ensured that he and his siblings were interested in culture, heritage and tradition. Having released a music album derived from his thesis titled Umgidi ensemble: Queen Nandi the African symphony, Zulu says that his study and last name (Zulu) inspired the composition of Shaka Inkosi Yamakosi. He states: "It is an honour to have composed the music before the actual script of the animation, which is hardly the case with such productions."

Zulu explains: "Shaka Inkosi Yamakhosi is a story derived from events that King Shaka Zulu encountered. It is a story told in juxtaposition to present time as there is a character called Manzini, who encounters similar challenges as King Shaka but in a modern context."

"A meek young boy, Manzini is bullied by three boys on his way back from school in an incident that almost costs him his life. Manzini expresses his desire to quit school to his gogo (grandmother)," narrates Zulu. He continues: "His gogo narrates a profound tale of the resilience of Shaka Zulu to inspire her grandson through the strength of his lineage."

Zulu further remarks: "Transporting viewers to the 1700s, in the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal, Nandi gives birth to Shaka, illegitimately fathered by Senzangakhona KaJama, a prince of the Jama tribe." He adds: "We, therefore, follow the grooming of Shaka into a conqueror and influential king."


Recognising an outstanding talent

Impressed by Zulu's outstanding talent, Prof Thomas Pooley, Unisa's Chair of the Department of Art and Music, attests: "Zulu has previously garnered several major awards, including three South African Music Awards and a Southern African Music Rights Organisation grant for indigenous African music. This makes him an ideal lecturer for Unisa's music students who focus on African composition, instrumentation, and music technology."

Pooley notes that the South African film and television industry, Netflix, and other partners are investing in African content with the promise of exciting new opportunities for the institution's graduates. "Awards such as these bring considerable international recognition and industry presence, all of which are important as we grow our digital arts platform," he affirms.

"Congratulations to Ndabo Zulu for establishing himself as an exciting new voice in the South African film music industry. His work on Shaka Inkosi Yamakhosi demonstrates how the careful study of our indigenous cultural heritage can be used to create a compelling soundtrack that is both relevant and engaging." He concludes: "His innovations offer a model for advancing Africanisation and speak to contemporary debates on decoloniality."

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/08/30

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