Lifetime award for NoFinish

15 October 2002

As the focal point of Ngqoko, a group of traditional bowsingers from the Eastern Cape, NoFinish Dywili took the traditional music of the abaThembu people from obscurity to local and international renown.

At the 2002 Arts and Culture Trust Awards, Dywili, the founder of the Nggoko Women’s Cultural Group, was posthumously honoured for her contribution to traditional forms of South African music with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dywili recognised that the musical traditions of her village Ngqoko – between Queenstown and Engcobo in the Eastern Cape – and surrounding areas were dying and, in a personal 40-year crusade, kept the music and the customs associated with it alive through a core group of singers, the Ngqoko Women’s Cultural Group.

Considered a national treasure of South Africa, the performers of Ngqoko encompass the richness and depth of a centuries-old art form, including a range of gentle bow patterns, soft overtones, astonishing musical scale, rich harmonies and a unique, highly-developed form of overtone singing.

The Ngqoko Women’s Cultural Group has performed extensively both locally and internationally, recording a CD – Le Chant des Femmes Xhosa – for the Musee d’Ethnographie de Geneve in 1995.

Presenting the award to Dywili’s daughter Thulisa, Professor Andrew Tracey, director of the International Library of African Music, highlighted Dywili’s passion for sustaining traditional Xhosa music: “She was outstanding in her own way, but also representative of many, many other outstanding, unsung women who can be found in every small community in South Africa – people who have the courage and the power to live their life as they know it should be lived, and to influence others to do the same.”

Tracey emphasised the significance of Ngqoko at a time that South Africans are rediscovering their artistic heritage. “They have made a tremendous impression. It’s not only their music, the polyphonic singing, the three types of bow they play, the umngqokolo overtone singing.

“It is also their presence, their dignity, their gaiety and their seriousness, the sure knowledge they give to an audience that they are part of an ancient tradition which means something to them, and something of this meaning comes across to every audience.”

The Ngqoko Women’s Cultural Group specialised, among other things, in the typical married woman’s style called umngqungqo, danced at the time of intonjane, girls’ isolation and initiation.

According to Tracey, the Khoisan had a big influence on the western Xhosa people, and although it is now almost impossible to trace any relicts of original Khoisan culture in the Eastern Cape, “it’s still there to hear in song-dances like umngqungqo“.

NoFinish’s music might have remained unknown forever, Tracey said in his presentation speech, if it had not been for a chance meeting in about 1979 between NoFinish and the Rev Dave Dargie, who was working on Africanising the music in the Catholic liturgy.

Once Dargie heard NoFinish with her uhadi gourd bow, “he knew right away that he’d better learn something about the real traditional Xhosa music before going any further”, Tracey related. “So, late in her life, she was ‘discovered’, as they say, and her group began to be invited to perform, close to home at first.

“But soon they were getting invitations much further afield, all over South Africa, then to Europe several times, and [in 2001] I took them to Reunion, that was NoFinish’s last trip.”

NoFinish was the focal point of the music of the Ngqoko Women’s Cultural Group, “their gravitas, their isithunzi“, Tracey said.

“In presenting this award to NoFinish’s daughter Thulisa for her mother, I would like to think this is also in recognition of all other women in South Africa who know their own mind, who know who they are, and have confidence in themselves and in their culture.”

Source: Arts & Culture Trust