Dust of the Zulu

Ngoma Aesthetics after Apartheid

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 142 illustrations Published: August 2017

Author: Louise Meintjes

Contributor: TJ Lemon

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Ethnomusicology

In Dust of the Zulu Louise Meintjes traces the political and aesthetic significance of ngoma, a competitive form of dance and music that emerged out of the legacies of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. Contextualizing ngoma within South Africa's history of violence, migrant labor, the HIV epidemic, and the world music market, Meintjes follows a community ngoma team and its professional subgroup during the twenty years after apartheid's end. She intricately ties aesthetics to politics, embodiment to the voice, and masculine anger to eloquence and virtuosity, relating the visceral experience of ngoma performances as they embody the expanse of South African history. Meintjes also shows how ngoma helps build community, cultivate responsible manhood, and provide its participants with a means to reconcile South Africa's past with its postapartheid future. Dust of the Zulu includes over one hundred photographs of ngoma performances, the majority taken by award-winning photojournalist TJ Lemon.


"Studies of African performance remain far too few; this one sets a very high bar. Essential." — A. F. Roberts, Choice

"Crackling with energy and erudition, Dust of the Zulu now vivifies ngoma for the academy." — Benedict Carton, Journal of Modern African Studies

"Louis Meintjes's Dust of the Zulu leaps out at the reader with the same energy and passion as the Ngoma dancers themselves. It is uncanny how deftly Meintjes captures the vibrancy and rhythm of the performers and performances in her writing, and T.J. Lemon’s photos are the perfect complement to the descriptions of harmonized bodies and voices." — Aran Mackinnon, African Studies Quarterly

"Meintjes’s fluid ethnographic writing melds analytical precision with a depth of cultural insight gained through long immersion. The book’s dialectical force is sustained by the richness and intimacy of Meintjes’s collaborations. Zulu voices saturate the book’s textures. . . . The prose itself is beautifully wrought. . . . Replete with revelations that are by turns tremendously moving, frightening, disconcerting, and inspiring." — Thomas M. Pooley, Anthropos

"We travel with Meintjes as she recounts individual narratives of Zulu men maintaining dignity amidst wavering stability in wage-labor, health, and the inconsistent machinations of the international music industry. The humanity, fragility, and mutual constitution of strength through aesthetics is expertly handled in this new classic in the genre of performative ethnography." — Elizabeth Perrill, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Louise Meintjes’s book provides a captivating introduction to the vibrant and dramatic spirit of this Southern African art form. . . . Dust of the Zulu contributes to the ever-growing literature on indigenous African theatre and performance; its strength is the author’s captivating descriptions of the dance and the drama of the competitions." — Osita Okagbue, Theatre Research International

"Dust of the Zulu is a significant contribution to the scholarship of South African music and Zulu ngoma more specifically. The book will be very useful for students and scholars in the fields of ethnomusicology, anthropology, cultural studies, and African studies. It demonstrates the author’s deep and wide knowledge of Zulu ngoma and her mastery of the art of ethnography writing and is strongly recommended for anyone interested in learning this art. Indeed, whereas Meintjes praises Clegg for successfully translating ngoma into terms that are intelligible within the global popular-music circles, she and the photographer T. J. Lemon should be praised for magnificently translating ngoma in terms that are legible within music and cultural scholarly circles." — Imani Sanga, Notes

"Meintjes’s writing pulls the reader slowly into the subject and before one knows it, one is caught in the dancing and the stomping so much so that one can almost feel the dust. . . . Dust of the Zulu is an engaging and informative book. . . . Meintjes’s lyrically written volume is a welcome addition to the growing literature on Zulu dance and song." — Mueni wa Muiu, Journal of Global South Studies

"The vitality of ngoma glistens on the pages of Dust of the Zulu. . . . This is an important book, which provokes wider questions: How are Africans directing how their societies evolve? What do they need to consider from their position? Some answers to such questions are found in research like this, which reflects on the generative possibilities of African performance." — 'Funmi Adewole, Dance Research Journal

"Visceral and immediate. . . . [Meintjes] makes us hear an alternative to mainstream ethnography by leaving it unspoken. She’s dancing in the scholar’s world." — Barbara Titus, Ethnomusicology

Dust of the Zulu is hands-down among the very best ethnographic works ever written on the politics of aesthetics. Commanding, rewarding, challenging, and shattering in turns, equally gorgeous and unflinching in its evocations, it is above all poignant and virtuosic in its performance of criticism and compassion. This is a hugely important book for South African history and aesthetics, for anthropologies of the body and voice, for cultural studies of music, sound, and dance, and for experimental ethnographic writing and imaging. A stunning book.” — Steven Feld, author of Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana

“Louise Meintjes brilliantly salvages Zulu dancers from the demeaning, colonialist stereotypes of sweating, bellicose, and largely anonymous men. Readers who have long been frustrated by the dearth of serious studies of African dance will welcome her comprehensive theoretical grasp, analytical rigor, and sheer intellectual potency. A terrific work that will have a lasting impact, Dust of the Zulu will reinvigorate dance and performance studies everywhere. Meintjes makes South African studies proud.” — Veit Erlmann, author of Music, Modernity, and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Louise Meintjes is Associate Professor of Music and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and the author of Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio, also published by Duke University Press.

TJ Lemon is an award-winning photojournalist based in Johannesburg.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. The Politics of Participation in Ngoma Song and Dance  1
1. Turning to Be Kissed: Praise, Flirtation, and the Work of Men  28
2. The Unwavering Voice: Affect, Eloquence, and the Moral Anger of Men  62
3. Feet of the Centipede: Military Aesthetics and the Politics of Reconciliation  94
4. To Quell the Dancer's Dust: Singing Violence during South Africa's Transition  124
5. The Crossing: World Music and Ngoma at Home  151
6. Dancing Around Disease: Silence, Ambiguity, and Brotherhood  182
7. The Digital Homestead: Having a Voice and the Sound of Marginalization  210
8. Brokering the Body: Culture, Heritage, and the Pleasure of Participation  240
Closing. Ngoma's Masculinity, South Africa's Struggle  266
Notes  273
References  307
Index  329
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2018 Gregory Bateson Prize, presented by the Society for Cultural Anthropology

Co-Winner, 2018 Alan Merriam Prize, presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6265-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6250-0
Publicity material