When I was an early teen I used to sit by myself on the hill behind our house in Johannesbburg, South Africa, and write songs, and stories in a little notebook.
I could see the whole of Orange Grove, Norwood, Fairwood, Linksfield, Alexandra and even Highlands North from up there. On a good day I could see past Sandton.
In my special spot on a big rock I worked through a lot of my teen angst, emotional growing pains and heartbreak. That spot became a special place of solitude and comfort for me. (It still is.)
Late one afternoon, when I was upset with the whole damn unfair-world, and wallowing in my own self-pity thinking about a girl who broke my heart, I became aware of the most haunting, memorable, soul-filling sound I have ever heard.
It was incredible.
I had never heard anything like it.
The sound wafted on the late summer breeze and touched my soul.
Even though I was taken by music from when I was a little chap, this was the first time I really ‘felt’ music.
For some reason it touched the very core of my being. It was so moving and sweet that I got goose bumps.
I was mesmerized.
I got up and walked towards the sound. I moved quietly through the veldt to a house that sat on the side of the hill below my secret writing place.
The sound was coming from the servant’s quarters in the back of the house.
I stood and listened for a bit and then, in the gloom of the darkening dusk, I was drawn to a pale flickering light where the sound was coming from. It was so beautiful and touching that, like a moth to a candle, I found myself needing find the source.
The yellow glow was coming from a small window in the servant’s quarters.
I stood on my tiptoes and looked into the window.
What I saw inside I will never forget. I will always remember the power and realization of the sight before my eyes.
Inside the room I saw a young African woman holding a swaddled little infant. (At that time in South Africa, due to the pass laws, servants were not allowed to have their babies in the city if they were over a certain age. I don’t remember the details of the law, but I know many babies were illegally hidden or a least kept out of sight in the backs of people’s houses.)
In the flickering candlelight I saw the mom with her cheek against the baby’s soft and pudgy face. I saw such love in the mother’s eyes as she gently rocked her baby.
Love for her child was flowing out of every pore in her body.
And she was singing an amazing traditional African lullaby.
“Thula Tu Thula baba Thula sana.”
Oh my God was she singing.
Talk about straight from the heart. Her voice was beautiful and haunting. The lullaby left her mouth, like a rabble of beautiful butterflies, and enveloped the child in the deepest and most profound way. The child was so peaceful and at one with the mother.
Sometimes, when I think about that lullaby, I can see myself standing on tiptoes and looking in the window and hearing that beautiful, haunting voice. When I remember that moment I still feel that distinctive sound of Africa stirring in my soul, no matter how many different places I have lived since then.
Talk about striking a chord!
That early evening, as the crickets started their night symphony and sang in harmony with the young mother, I learned something. I learned that the indoctrination and crap we were led to believe in our ‘controlled’ society… about how Africans don’t have feelings like the Europeans do and are less sensitive and not as caring and they don’t feel pain the same way… was wrong.
It’s amazing what nonsense people feed you to help them (and the societies they live in) control other people by sub-humanizing and de-humanizing them.
Thank God, that night, my young eyes and heart were opened and I was able to see love, comfort and deep caring coming from that tiny room. A grungy storeroom, like many servant’s quarters, where many white South Africans believed treason, crime, disease, subversive-behavior, violence and sorghum beer was being brewed.
I am so glad that I saw and heard the song with my heart and soul, and not only with my ears, because it surely changed the way I look at the world.
To hear a version of the song please visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzhUs2Xg0VI
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