Interview Zandi Sutton
Draft 2, Feb 12, 2019
JL: Zandi, we’re so honored that you are willing to share
“Thula Mama”- a lullaby that was so important to you as a high school student (in the 80’s) under apartheid in South Africa.
First, I’m curious about the fact that you have given us two actually very different versions of the same lullaby! Not only the melodies and lyrics are different, but the meaning. Can you talk about this? Who would have guessed they would have such completely different meanings?
ZS: The first version I gave you was sung to comfort a child when his/her mother was out in the field, or gathering wood, or cultivating. This is why you hear the lyrics “Thula sana (child) umama akekho” or “ubaba akekho” which means, “Be silent child. Mother” or “Father” is away.”
The second version was specifically sung to mothers during the struggle. These were the mothers whose sons had been sent to work in the dangerous mines of Zimbabwe.
Many of these sons did not return.
We used to sing this lullaby as we walked door to door
in our neighborhood. We sang to comfort, and in support of the mothers whose sons had been killed. You have to understand that there was no money to buy coffins, the grave, or money to feed the family. We sang and carried little jars to collect the change.
JL: Why had the men gone to the mines? And who went?
Is it true that under apartheid, the young black men were given no choice?
ZS: Yes. 1980-1989 were particularly rough years. Soldiers enforced the rules. The soldiers were usually white. Some were from a black political party that was left over from the homelands.
This is the era of Nelson Mandela. He spent xxxx imprisoned for speaking out, and for organizing against injustice.
JL: What does this all mean in America today? How would it be valuable to connect our students with these songs?
ZS: We all know there is all kinds of injustice in America today. How do we respond? We need to not stand by idly and watch injustice. We will not turn the other way from, for example, immigrants. We must believe “You are my brother!” We must be willing to stop and think and feel. If I do nothing because the laws do not effect me, then it becomes too late.
In So.Africa, if all of the people had acted sooner (against injustice) there would not have been a reason to sing “Thula Mama”.
JL : Here’s a question that concerns many educators these days. Would you consider it appropriation if we (Americans) sang “Thula mama?”
ZS: I would consider it appropriation if you don’t bother yourself with finding out who sang it and why? Where is the song from? How do we pronounce the words?
I am happy when people like our music and want to learn it. Let’s do this right.
JL: I think Thula Mama would be a beautiful song to sing at a school assembly. Maybe even both lullabies for contrast in meaning. The lullaby sung to the mothers would be a reminder for students an teachers alike, that they can stand up for justice wherever they are.