Zulu songs

In the Bangor Comunity Choir we often sing songs from southern Africa in languages like Xhosa and Zulu. I don’t speak these languages, yet, and neither does anybody in the choir, so we’re never entirely sure how to pronounce the words. We usually have a rough translation of the words, so we at least know what they mean.

At the moment we’re learning a Zulu song called “Sesizo Hamba Kancane” which apparently means ‘Walk Gracefully (you people of modern days)’. Here are the words we’re singing:

Sesizo hamba kancane nje nge si manje
Sizo hamba kancane nge hoshimamma

This isn’t the whole song, but these are words are repeated in various combinations throughout.

I thought it would be interesting to find out what they all mean and how to pronounce them.

– sesizo – not sure what this means
– hamba [ˈhaːmba] = to go, walk, ride, travel – often appears in Zulu songs
– kancane [ɠaˈn͡ǀaːne] = a bit; a little; slightly; softly; slowly; gradually; tenderly; barely; scarcely – not an easy word to pronounce what with the implosive g and the dental click.
– nje [nʤe] = (suffix) merely; only; just
– nge [ŋge] = (prefix) not
– si [si] = we
– manje [ˈmaːnʤe] = now; at present

I’m not sure about the rest of it. We were told that it’s something about driving our mother’s car carefully. Does anyone know the song, or speak Zulu?

Source: http://isizulu.net/

This is one of the songs we’ll be singing with lots of other choirs in London on Sunday 9th September this year at Sing for Water London. If you happen to be in London at that time, please come along a listen.

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This entry was posted in Language, Music, Zulu.

4 Responses to Zulu songs

  1. Chris Miller says:

    The standard Zulu spelling (which agglutinates affixes into large word blocks) has been broken up here. I’m not sure about the “nge hoshimamma”, but it looks like it is probably meant to be ngehashi, mama. The two lines would then be properly spelled:

    Sesizohamba kancane njengesimanje
    Sizohamba kancane ngehashi, mama.

    ‘We are going to go slow like nowadays
    we are going to go slowly with the horse, mama.’

    Morphological breakdown:

    se- inceptive ‘as of now, henceforth, now…’
    si- ‘we’
    zo o
    hamba ‘go’, ‘walk’

    ka- adverbial prefix
    -ncane ‘small’, ‘little’ , i.e. slowly

    njenga- ‘like’ e
    isimanje ‘at present’, ‘nowadays’?

    nga- instrumental
    ihashi ‘horse’
    mama vocative of umama ‘mother’

    I am completely certain about the morphological breakdown and the spelling (linguistics knowledge), but not being a native (or very proficient) Zulu speaker, I can only guess that the meanings are something like this. I would have asked a Xhosa friend who lives in Washington DC, but the massive storm yesterday has knocked out power all over the region there and as she is not a heavy Internet user in the first place, I imagine this occasion would hardly get her to come online more frequently!

  2. Vijay John says:

    I know a very little bit of Zulu and have a phrasebook for that language. The phrasebook might help, although I guess Chris has already covered this one ;)

  3. Chris Miller says:

    Something got garbled in my remark above, and it’s not just the run-on italics. The part that reads “zo o” should read as follows:

    zo ‹ za- (proximal future derived from an archaic variant of ‘come’, which is normally [i]dla-) + u[ku]- (infinitive prefix)

  4. Fran Jackson says:

    Hmm, I may be coming to the Sing for Water event and get fed up with choirs singing songs in other languages from other cultures where the full meaning of the song is neither explained or considered an important aspect of the song and performance. Why does this seem to be acceptable. It seems disrespectful to me>