Water, drought and song in the Kingdom of eSwatini - Cara Stacey

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Event Date: 
March 5, 2020 - 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Spurlock Museum
600 S. Gregory St. Urbana, IL

George A. Miller Visiting Scholar Cara Stacey will present a "Sensing Water" lecture titled “Water, drought and song in the Kingdom of eSwatini." This paper is part of Stacey's forthcoming book manuscript "eSwatini Music and Nationalism."


This paper explores ideas surrounding water within the musical world of eSwatini in southern Africa. As a country plagued by severe and regular drought and as southern African moves permanently into a state of water stress, the research presented aims to understand how indigenous musical forms of expression have portrayed ideas relating to water. In eSwatini, water is intrinsically linked to cattle (and so, to wealth and prosperity), to ecology and rural life and, to domestic, cultural and commercial work, and to spiritualism. Within the rich world of Swazi religious and cultural belief, water is a key signifier of power, communication and change. The supreme god, Mvelinchanti, is closely associated with the animals and land of this kingdom, with the river pools, the sea and lightning being symbols of or homes to other notable spiritual and ancestral beings. In order to retain power, the bemanti (‘people of the water’) and belwandle (‘people of the sea’) are involved in water collection rites for the King (Kuper 1944).

These diverse meanings associated with water can be read in a variety of musical songs and genres. From regimental songs performed at the annual Incwala ceremony to makhweyane bow songs about courtship, rain, water, rivers and the sea perform a lyrical and relational function through these musics in this society. This paper investigates the forms these lyrical associations take on as local hydroscapes are drastically altered by environmental and climate flux.


"Sensing Water" is a series of programs arranged by eco-musicologist Michael Silvers supported by the Presidential Initiative to Celebrate the Impact of the Arts and the Humanities at the University of Illinois.

Cara Stacey is a George A. Miller Visiting Scholar in residence at the Robert E. Brown Center for World Music from March 4 - 14.

Stacey's visit is co-sponsored in part by Spurlock Museum, School of Music, Fine and Applied Arts, University of Illinois, and the George A. Miller Programs Committee.


Cara Stacey is a South African musician, composer and researcher. She is a pianist and plays southern African musical bows (umrhubhe, uhadi, makhweyane). Cara holds a Masters in Musicology (Edinburgh), a MMus in Performance from SOAS (London). As a Commonwealth Scholar, she completed her PhD through the University of Cape Town and SOAS (London). Her doctoral research investigated practice and innovation in the music of the makhweyane musical bow in the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). Cara is currently an ACLS African Humanities Programme postdoctoral fellow.

Beyond her solo performance and composition work, Cara collaborates with percussionist and drummer Sarathy Korwar in the project Pergola and is a member of the Night Light Collective. Her debut album 'Things that grow' features Shabaka Hutchings, Seb Rochford, Ruth Goller, and Crewdson (2015, Kit Records). Her latest album, 'Ceder', is of her duo project with Peruvian flutist and composer Camilo Ángeles (2018, Kit Records). Cara has performed across southern Africa, in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Peru, the USA and Switzerland with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Sarathy Korwar, Dan Leavers, Galina Juritz, Beat Keller, Matchume Zango, Jason Singh and Juliana Venter.

Cara is the founder of the Betwixt concert series with cellist Nicola du Toit. She sits on the executive committee for the South African Society for Research in Music and is the International Council for Traditional Music country liaison office for the kingdom of eSwatini. She is based between Johannesburg and Mbabane.

open to the public, admission free
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