Sounds From an amaZulu Compound


It has been awhile. There are many stories to tell, and my hope is to share them with my wifi access this week. Anticipate a You Tube music Fiesta for the next two days.

When I was doing a blogging boot camp, some bloggers shared sounds of their community for a few of the prompts. I am using their idea with a twist. My Amajuba family had a 14 year old boy who LOVED to blast his pirated music from his phone on the family speakers(there are somethings about adolescent behavior that transcend cultures ) At times it was annoying but it left me with an appreciation for house and Kwaito (house with African rhythms that originated in Johannesburg in the 1990’s) music. With my current internet access I finally am able to research the titles and artists. Here is a snippet of the rural Amajuba soundtrack (just imagine the random amaZulu shouts from a gogo and goat belts in-between and it is basically accurate.)

Full disclaimer: I do not know the translation of most of these songs, my objective is to just share the sound. I have tried to share translations if they area available, but my isiZulu translation skills are mediocre and my Xhosa knowledge is minute (yebo they have the same palatal clicks but trust me are very different languages.)  Also all credit goes to the artists, please feel free to purchase these catch tunes and spread them outside of South Africa!

Susan: The Soil with Khuli Chana


I love this retro-inspired Xhosa love song, and always want to swing dance when it comes on. A few of the lyrics involve singer implores Susan to remember him and explain themselves.

KOTW (Kings of the Weekend) Anthem: SPHEctacular and DJ Naves


I call this the “Amajuba Anthem” because Arny Mkhizeis phoning from Duke City. It is extremely catchy and the kids on my compound would break out dancing when they say BOOM BOOM BOOM! Side Interestingly on the singers started off as an accountant from Durban who got involved with DJ gigs while attending varsity/college in Gauteng. Quick note: This is the music video (because it is not the same with the Amajuba reference) with a lot of partying scenes. I just listen to the sound in the background while working on my laptop, so I am not aware of the full extent of the video.

Shumaya: DBN Nyts, TradeMark, and Zinhle Ngindi



I shared my spontaneous encounter with DBN Nyts and why it is a given on this list here.

Nguye lo: Arthur and Kelly Khumalo


Nguye lo translates to “this is” in Xhosa and Nguye lon’ owami is “the one for me.” The amaZulu love their love songs so I had to include one slow one on the list.

Sweetie: Heavy K with Nokwazi


Here is an example of how people use English in the middle of a song in an ingenious language. The gist of the song from isiZulu is I been looking for love for a while and now I’ve got it. I been looking for a honourable man and now I’ve found him. Hey sweetie sweetie, death will do us apart. when they ask me who are you, I  tell them that you are my hope and my true hope.” I direct all translation credit to YouTube users, thank you for making my task easier!

Akulalwa: Dr. Shimza and Dr. Malinga


Akulalwa means “rest now” in isiZulu. Beyond that I cannot find any other translation to English. All I can say is that is played often in the compound and on taxis.

Umoya: Heavy K, Professor, and Mpumi


Umoya is either a spirit or the wind in isiZulu. I often say Kunemoya (there is wind or it is windy in the battlefields.) Also a song with an elusive English but one of the main lines translates to , “ This song  makes me breathless.”

Zimbiri: Alaska featuring Maphorisa


This is one song where I can actually sing a lyric even though it is in Xhosa, “ Hey Wena, woza la” is “Hey you, come here”. Plus the beat is super catchy! And Yebo, the band’s real name was Alaska.


A Field Guide to Amajuba Minibus Taxis


The Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge 2016 Continues! This week’s topic: on the road (aka the aspects of our communities that keep us entertained while moving through our communities). My source of constant amusement are the minibus taxis (I live 500 meters from the local taxi rank) and I could probably write an anthropological case study on minibus culture. For the sake of brevity and in the spirit of South Africa’s safari-dependent tourism industry, here is my take on a field guide for the vehicles that keep me mobile. My page code names for South African places are found here.

Side note: “Minibus” and “taxi” are interchangeable. However American-like taxi services are available in the big cities like Pietermartizburg and Pretoria. Keeping my audience in mind, I tried to refer to the animals…er vehicles as minibuses except the traditional model which is only called taxi.

A Field Guide to Amajuba Minibus Taxis

While they have numerous names across Southern Africa from “combi” in Botswana to “dala dala” in Tanzania, minibuses or taxis in Northern KZN are the lifeline between rural communities. For men who do not get to leave their communities after metric /high school graduation, minibus driving is a sustainable job, especially in rural areas with high unemployment rates. The country of South Africa is connected through local taxi associations and their dedicated drivers. The people of Amajuba are  dependent on minibuses to maneuver groceries, luggage, and of course relatives.


A minibus is capable of being any car color such as blue, red, orange, turquoise, or lime green. The majority of minibuses are white. Décor is minimal but a predominate design is the South African flag emulating a comet on the passenger doors with the five colors (red, blue, yellow, green, and black)  appearing as intertwining flames throughout the bus’ exterior perimeter. Occasionally minibuses serve as an advert for a variety of products like groceries and in some cases soapies/televised soap operas. These minibuses are a rolling billboard with the entire décor theme based on the product.

IMG_1577 (2)

A typical minibus, bringing people home in the Drakensburg Dusk


A minibus sporting Huletts (one of the main sugar brands in SA) adverts in Duke City



A minibus (or driver) makes their presence known by incessant honking of the car horn and boisterous music. This music ranges from the latest KZN sensations like Dbn Nights to flute covers of Celine Dion’s greatest hits (I kid you not, yesterday most of my 5 hour drive from Gauteng was spent trying to identify the songs). If loud music is a problem, it is imperative to bring earplugs for the minibus encounter as it could be one decked out with large speakers next to your ear.

Species of Minibuses in Amajuba District

There are currently 5 types of minibuses that serve the rural areas of Amajuba. At minimum taxis are capable of transporting 15 people (and they will not leave until they are close to 15 passengers. Fares are determined by distance and are same regardless of the minibus model.


Traditional and Quantum in Research Town’s taxi rank. Quantum are the taller cars

Traditional (15 Passengers):

The oldest model, traditional taxis have the defining feature of folding seats as seen in the cross section below. The only seatbelt available for passengers tends to be the front seat. Traditional models are the least expensive option on the market and drivers in the rural areas can easily obtain this form of minibus. By far traditional models are the most available species of minibus in all of South Africa.

South  African minibus

Interior layout of a traditional South African Taxi that seats 15 passengers

Quantum (16 Passengers):

 As the traditional minibus is cramped in space, more drivers are starting to opt for Toyota Quantum. The additional space supports passengers with physical disabilities, provides and additional passenger seat and more space for groceries. Quantum also tend to have seatbelts available in all of the seats.

South  African quantum minibus

Interior layout for a Quantum, that seats 16 passengers


Shoprite (SA’s discount grocery chain) Soup Kitchen service at my org, with a Quantum adapted for their needs

Sprinter (21 Passengers):

Located near larger cities, advantages of the Sprinter include space, a comfortable height, bag storage above the seats, and storage in the trunk for luggage. These models also have seatbelts accessible for all the seats and are by far are the safest transport option in rural Amajuba. Sprinters are the most expensive model to obtain and only drivers serving urban destinations are capable of obtaining them.

South  African sprinter minibus

Interior layout of a Sprinter for 21 passengers


Sprinter in Duke City’s local destinations taxi rank

Nyathi (13 Passengers):

 The Nyathi is used for celebrations as opposed to practical purposes. Nyathis are rented out for parties, weddings, and metric formals. Passengers are treated to loud music and dancing on the way to their destination.


Nyathi (with a blue stripe), right of my local taxi rank (500 meters from my compound)

School Buses (~40 Passengers):

For frequent destinations like local cities, some rural areas use school buses to transport large groups of people.


Example of the school buses in rural Amajuba


Beyond their usual rounds on country roads and urban streets, minibuses typically reside at a taxi rank. Minibuses retire under tin awnings for shade when available, and nicer ranks have signs indicating the destination names.  In ranks, you can spot minibus by watching the local vendors. Vendors will congregate around taxis selling a myriad of goods from airtime, towels, and of course food. For passengers waiting for taxis to fill, vendors sell cold treats directly through the windows.

In rural areas without rank facilities, drivers create their own ranks by clustering minibuses on the side of the road. Ask the community members where the rank and minibuses stop (different destinations tend to have different watering holes…or parking spots where the minibus waits to fill).


Scotland’s taxi rank, with vendors in position at the windows


How to Approach a Minibus

Unlike most South Africa wildlife, minibuses will not automatically stop at the presence of humans. Especially if all seats are full Approaching minibuses involves an acquired technique, the below tips are only meant to serve as a guide.  

Before approaching a minibus, research where you want to go and the fare. Unless you are going a significant distance, most drivers cannot break large bills like 100 or 200 ZAR. Do your best to break the fare at local tuck shops or in town; exact change is always the best option. Also, learn the local language enough so you can maneuver the minibuses because chances are high that the driver will struggle to understand English.

Once the fare and language skills are covered, you are prepared to take the minibus. Using the local knowledge walk towards the side of the road. If a minibus approached, point your index finger up for the nearest city or down the nearest hub. If the bus is full, the driver will turn his palms up and go past you. If there is space and you are visible, the driver will pull over! If your community has a taxi rank that services the desired destination, simply walk to the rank and locate the minibus.  

When on the minibus, wait for the locals to start paying before offering the fee. Often minibuses serving rural areas need to transfer passengers to another driver for specific destinations and the fee will not be paid until everyone boards the new bus.

One last tip:. Building rapport through acknowledging a driver’s presence as you wander around the community may help when you actually need a ride. They make respond to a friendly wave with a lively honk for “hello” in return!  If the ride was particularly safety oriented and smooth, a local “thank you” and “go well” to the driver when you disembark never hurts.

The PCV and the Boy Band


Until last Thursday, the closest I have come to celebrity encounters is attending the same high school as Neil Patrick Harris (he graduated the year I was born). In this edition of crazy-things-that-happen-to PCVs, I actually had celebrities show up 500 meters from my house.

Come to South Africa right now and you will hear a song called “Shumaya” by Dbn Nyts (Durban Nights). It is on adverts, blasted on taxis, and it is my host brother’s choice of music to stream throughout the compound.  Honestly, I do not mind as I embrace the “Shumaya” craze. “Shumaya” was just taking off when SA 31 arrived in country. We danced an improvised version of the electric slide with our language teachers at a gathering during PST. South Africans also like music interludes between speakers at events, and at our host family farewell the Masters of Ceremonies played pieces of it often. I actually did some folklorico to “Shumaya” to entertain the crowd while my host aunt (who has a disability left from a childhood bout with polio) and my 90 year old gogo meandered towards the stage for PCSA’s appreciation certificate.

At the Municipal World AIDS Day event, my organization is not on the agenda (first sign we were not giving a speech) but at the end of the program is: Entertainment- Durban Nyte (Shumaya). I thought the DJ would blast “Shumaya” and there would be a community dance party (which I was so down for). After the Mayor finishes her speech and the Local AIDS Council lights the commemorative candle, we go back to our seats. I see a new DJ with a shirt that says Dbn Nyts (the actual name of the band). Then 5 men sporting red shirts, black pants, and red shoes walk on to the stage. Impressive but I thought it was a local group impersonating the band, even though they performed the rapping parts very well. They sing 4 songs and I discovered that the 4 other songs that I hear repeatedly in taxis and Duke City are also by Dbn Nyts) when “Shumaya” starts as the 5th song. The mayor joins in for the last half of the dance and that was my confirmation that I was really watching a live show of Dbn Nyts.  If it was not the real band, the mayor would have remained seated. Watching a politician sort of dance to the current music frenzy of South Africa’s youth was…an experience. The only way I can describe it is try to picture Donald Trump attempting to do the Whip/Nae Nae (which is also popular here). Right after “Shumaya” the band ran off, presumably to their next engagement.


The show was an absolute political gamic and the boys were too cool for their fans. Yet I got a free show and great story to tell from my South African PCV experience (I  have”Shumaya” on video as proof this actually happened). The ironic part about this was I considered attending a Drbn Nytes concert while I was in Pretoria, but it was expensive and at night. I got a free daytime concert in my dinky municipality without trying!

I needed to brag to people who would understand about my encounter, so I messaged SA 31’s Northern KZN crew on What’s App about the gathering with a photo of the band. The SpEd responded with “Cool I did not know they were a boy band.” Of course the youngest woman in SA 31 would inadvertently share her experience with a boy band. I swear I am not one of those boy band crazy tweens (sans a Backstreet Boys fixation when I was 6).  

All the best,


PS: If you are interested, these are the lyrics to “Shumaya”. Typical of South Africa you can see isiZulu, English, and Afrikaans words in one song. Still trying to translate the actual meaning of the song.  Also “Shumaya” is actually a word from Nigeria. If anyone has ties to Nigerian cultures and can actually help me figure out what it means, I would be obliged.

and the Sound of isiZulu…

Code Words I use to protect the innocent can be found under the new page.


It may be redundant but SA 31 is awesome. After having a quiet month on Team KZN’s Whats App group, the other New Mexican randomly messages the group at 8 PM on a Saturday night about their epiphany. While listening to “the Circle of Life” they hear clicks…a Disney song was in isiZulu. Mind. Blown. This revelation turned into a spirited discussion about how the Lion King is a mishmash of African culture and different stories of betrayal from Hamlet to South Africa’s notorious King Shaka. In this process, I try to remember who actually sang the Zulu part. I always thought it was Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

If you have not listened to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, start with  “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” probably their most famous song with Paul Simon.

After most of SA 31 went to bed, I immediately share with the Math Teacher because if there is one thing my parents did well it is pass along great taste in music. They instilled my love for Paul Simon, so I knew they could put the Ladysmith Black Mambazo inquiry to rest. Turns out it was sung by Lebo M. a singer based out of Johannesburg. The conversation evolves into a discussion on what Caring Spaz (my sister) did to the Paul Simon CDs I could not find last summer, and the Math Teacher finds both Graceland and Shaka Zulu. Through the wonders of what’s app she plays clips from both.

The Shaka Zulu CD by Ladysmith Black Mambazo was initially a Christmas Gift. I was 8 and remember opening it in the hospital (the Manager’s birthday falls on Christmas Eve). This was my first introduction to South Africa beyond a shape on the map. Despite my geographic literally it was not until I moved to the same country…no province as Ladysmith that I realized Ladysmith Black Mambazo was named for the city. Granted this is from the same girl who despite having a Winnie the Pooh obsession since kindergarten, was unaware that Kanga and Roo’s names combined formed their Australian marsupial identity until 5th grade. However my geographic awareness should have picked up on the association before last week. Eish.

My favorite song from Shaka Zulu is Rain, Rain, Rain, Beautiful rain.

Saturday I asked my mother to play it for me, and Monday the dusty Drakensburg was overwhelmed with precipitation.

Mist, mist, mist, beautiful precipitation!

Mist, mist, mist, beautiful precipitation!

Even in the midst of something crappy like the AIDS pandemic or chronic water shortages, South Africans still have hope. Unfortunately I did not appreciate the music as a child. As a PCV in South Africa who lives in a valley represented by Shabalalas, the music has new meaning. This men’s group was formed during the dark years of apartheid and is still active. They dance (really well) and their melody personifies South Africa. A country that continues to softly shosholoza and continue melodies.

All the best/Ngikufisela okuhle kodwa,

What do we really think of South Africa (let alone the African Continent)?

This could be my last post until Swearing in (early April) but hey I can officially call myself a Peace Corps Trainee. That is the last stage of gestation before Volunteer in the Peace Corps’ model of development…progress! However I will continue to type insights on South African culture. Some of you receive e-mail subscriptions for the blog, and I am flattered. However I wanted to let you know that I will probably have an avalanche of posts in April, and I am not offended if unsubscribe if it becomes overwhelming. Whatever you need to do to subsist is fine by me.

Since it will be a while, I wanted to share some food for thought. I do not endorse the Daily Show as news, and the content is not “G rated” (I would not watch this at work). However they sometimes excel at presenting problems in a creative manner. The newest correspondent, Trevor Noah, hails from South Africa. On Noah’s debut show, he and John Stewart talked about African stereotypes in a new way.
Yes, the video is funny (I may have laughed too loudly at the “starving fat children remark”…I can be an unkind Public Health Student sometimes) and it may not accurately describe all South African perspectives. It does not change the powerful messages worth sharing. I will leave you with these two questions present in my Trainee mind:

1. How does America’s view of African nations match up with reality?
2. What is the impact of these perceptions on our connections with the 54 countries on the African Continent?

All the best,
Katey-Red, Peace Corps Trainee Extraordinaire!