Wednesday, 25 April 2018

V is for Valiha...and...Viticulture

is for

Virtuoso from Mali - Vieux Farka Toure, the son of Ali Farka Toure. Magic fingers playing the desert blues!

And also Neide Van-dunem, a singer from Angola – watch her music video featuring Calo Pascoal below:

And last but not the least, here’s late Brenda Fassie - the Black Madonna, one of the top Vocalists from Africa with Vulindlela, which means ‘Open the gates’ a celebratory song sung from the POV of a parent whose son’s getting married. Also another great musician, singer-songwriter from South Africa - Vusi Mahlasela, who is simply known as The Voice - worth checking out by clicking this link here.

Valiha – is the national instrument of Madagascar, the large island nation off the south-eastern coast of Africa. The name comes from Vadya - the Sanskrit word for musical instrument, the instrument originally from Indonesia, a tube zither made from bamboo.  It was brought to Africa by Asian merchants through trade centuries before Christ, and was used originally for ritual music. The Valiha is about 600 cm to 1200 cm long, with a diameter varying between 8-10 cm. A traditional Valiha from Madagascar has 16-22 strings. They were originally made from bamboo fibre, which produced a weak sound, audible only to the musician himself and a very small, close circle of audience. These have been replaced by bicycle cable wires in modern times.

Music making on the Valiha was reserved for the nobility in the olden times, but slaves and the ‘lesser mortals’ learnt to play and made it their own surreptitiously, and in many cases with greater skills than their masters. Nowadays, the Valiha is played on family occasions as well as in formal musical ensembles. Rakotozafy was one of the renowned players.

And Justin Vali, Madagascar born and Paris resident, is among the greatest living exponents of Malagasy traditional music and this instrument, have a listen to him on the Valiha -

And since we are on the subject of national instruments, I can’t not mention the Vuvuzela, the air-horn suddenly propelled into global limelight during the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa. The…um…musical instrument was originally made from kudu horns and used for summoning people to public meetings in villages. Literally, a clarion call!

Nowadays the vuvuzela's made from plastic, and the South African industry makes some ZAR 50 million annually even in a quieter, non-World Cup year.  Not everybody liked it in 2010, players found it distracting, TV crews had trouble with making themselves heard, doctors mouthed dire warnings about the decibel levels - there were calls to ban it from the World Cup.

But Sepp Blatter, the then head of FIFA said, “…we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup ... Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound.

Well, I’m no fan of the gentleman, but he got that one thing right at least.

Viticulture - Everyone knows about South African winemaking, it goes back centuries and the products have an established reputation in the global export market.

But did you know about a far more ancient African viticulture? Amphorae containing residues of wine were among the funerary items in Tutankhamun’s tomb, placed there more than three millennia ago - yup, the Pharaohs were fans. Grapes were introduced in the Nile Valley from the Levant in 3000 BCE, and winemaking was a thriving industry in ancient Egypt. Wine presses have been found near the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, along with coins from Antioch, evidence of an unbroken tradition of winemaking in Egypt through the millennia. This changed with the Islamic conquest in the 7th century, but it was still continued by the minorities though volumes might have diminished. However, the consumption of alcohol wasn’t always by non-Muslim minorities only. There are traveller accounts from the medieval times of a small segment of the Muslim population consuming wines in Egypt.

The Phoenicians introduced viticulture in Carthage, modern day Tunisia, in 800 BCE and it spread to Algeria and Morocco with trade and conquest. The south Mediterranean coastal countries had a viticulture industry by the time ancient Romans came into the picture. Then Napoleon came to Egypt in 1798 followed by the British a century later, and finally, the French colonised Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in the early 19th century. And where the French go, viticulture goes with them. They introduced newer varieties and expanded the areas/yield and generally gave a great fillip to the industry. North African countries produced a third of the total world supplies in the 1950’s, hard to imagine now.

The French had withdrawn from North Africa by the 1960’s, Nasser nationalised the Egyptian wineries and breweries around the same time, a combination of socio-political factors led to a gradual decline. Then a wave of Islamic Wahhabi thinking arrived in the 70’s and was the final nail in the coffin. However, from 2000 onwards, viticulture has been revived with fresh investments and approaches. In 2016, an Egyptian wine produced from a local grape variety called Banati bagged an international award in the wine contest in Brussels. 

The North African nations with their Mediterranean climate might be logical candidates for winemaking, but I'll bet you didn’t know that sub-Saharan countries produce wines too. Both Kenya and Tanzania have local small-volume wineries, though they are restricted to their home markets so far, and as far as I know, have won no awards yet. However, Zimbabwean wines have! Read more about African wines here, here and here.

As for South African wines, gosh, where do I begin now that I’m totally out of word count?! Anyways, that story needs a separate post altogether – please come back tomorrow…

From the Safaris

~ Thank you for watching ~

Books n Stuff

Yvonne Vera (1964-2005) - was a preeminent author from Zimbabwe. She was born in Bulawayo in then South Rhodesia, and educated there and in Canada, where she obtained her PhD in the mid-80's. Subsequently, she went back to Zimbabwe and worked at the National Gallery in Harare. She started writing while in Toronto as a student, and the editor of the magazine to which she submitted asked her if she had more stories. She said she did, and then set about writing them. In a tragically short career, she published 6 books, and bagged multiple international awards. 

She was known for her lyrical, somewhat inaccessible prose, the tough and often taboo subjects she tackled and an obsessive writing habit.  One of her novels, Butterfly Burning, published 1998 has been included in the shortlist of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century in 2002 by a collaborative group of African literary organisation. Read an excerpt here.

Amelia Veiga (1931- ) - is a Portuguese born Angolan poet, she moved to Angola in when she was 20 and worked as a teacher there. Also started publishing her poetry. She was awarded the Fernandez Pessoa Prize for her work in her Poemas in 1963. Her poem 'Angola' is most frequently anthologised. Here is an excerpt -

I was not born from your womb
but I loved you each Spring
with the exuberance of a seed...


I was not born from your womb

but I drank your charm
in nights of transparent 

Well, yeah...Substitute the title with 'Nigeria' and Voila! - the story of my life!

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018


  1. "we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup ... Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound.” Hooray. Not lesser but different. And I don't think I have every heard anything as sensible from that gentleman.
    Yet another vivid and entrancing post. Thank you.

    1. I know! Quite a shock that he could be that sensible :-) Thanks for being here.

  2. Hari OM
    Really enjoyed the first track - and the valiha... but I must bring a note of difference in thought as to etymology. The word is surely purely Malagasy, which is a language related to the Indonesian islands - and as the instrument has roots there this would make much sense. In Sanskrit there is 'vAdya, gitA, nRtya' - "insturmental music, vocal music and dance movement". Whilst the word can be used to mean the instrument itself, I must admit to finding it a stretch to think it was taken up on Madagascar. Interested to know your source for this suggestion. It doesn't detract from the beautiful voice of the valiha! YAM xx

    1. The source is in the links. If you click on the last valiha it will take you to the page, or just use this -

      I am not an expert on languages, but I understand Indonesia (and the whole of South East Asia) have major Indian cultural influences including many loanwords from Sanskrit, Hindi/Hindustani, Tamil etc.

      And words sometimes take funny routes and end up in unexpected places. The Hindi and Hausa words for soap, for example, are strikingly similar. I was quite blown away upon arrival in Naijja to find such similarities in what seemed then to me two completely disparate languages. That's so because both the words are borrowings from Arabic of course, something I found out later.

      So to me it doesn't seem impossible that a word can travel from India to Indonesia and then onto Madagascar...

      But as you say, what's in a name? the rose and the instrument are as sweet... :-)

      Thank you for your comment, which has now taken me down memory lane on a delightful trip.

  3. God, I remember the vuvuzela craze... I found it hilarious at the time, as a form of culture clash :D The valiha has a really lovely sound, though!

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

    1. Ya, I too found it super amusing how hot and bothered everyone got over them - some team even blamed their poor performance on the vuvuzelas :-) can't quite recall which exact one...

  4. I had to smile at the reference to the vuvuzela. This music instrument caught a large part of the population by surprise. I certainly never heard that sound before the event of the World Cup in S.A. and never again on that scale since. Brenda Fassie was great and is sorely missed.

    1. I thought they were rather festive myself :) ...though I can imagine serious fans having to wear earmuffs if they wanted to watch games in the stadium...not something to be exposed to for hours on end.

  5. Your post was interesting as always but I was so happy to find you reading your poetry in the side bar! To finally hear your name pronounced and hear your Voice! Very nice surprise.

    1. That recording was made during A-Z 2017 - a local poetry festival :)

  6. and I blow my vuvuzela in your honor for a victory of a post

  7. While I think I might like to hear a traditional horn vuvuzela, at least once, my highly-sensitive ears are happy to give the plastic air horns a pass. I don't suppose the sounding of a valiha would have quite the same effect at a sporting event though would it? :-)

    I'm so enjoying your daily safari views - so much gorgeousness captured in each one.

    1. Nope, the valiha, while eminently pleasant, just wouldn't deliver the same oomph :)

      Glad you're enjoying the safaris! I had so much fun putting them together.

  8. Excellent job on the slideshow, as always! Love the vastness and views.

    Emily In Ecuador | Visitor Center, Machalilla National Park, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

    1. Thank you... no end to Africa's gorgeousness!

  9. Hi Nila - great selections here again ... love all the connections and links you give us ... Africa is amazing - and there's so much there. When I was out in Zimbabwe in 1978 we drank Zimbabwean wine ... I'm fairly certain the SA wine is considerably better ... yes I attest that! Brilliant vistas and views ... and your safari once again ... so many memories - cheers Hilary

    1. We drank a fair amount of SA wines in Egypt - since I'm not a connoisseur I found them quite sufficiently excellent :)


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