The Click Song by Miriam Makeba — CONNECTION — Mom & Miriam help me master the click in ‘Xhosa’

The Click Song sung my Miriam Makeba. Another one of my favorites; where did that naughty little flea go…huh?

Tongue reaches for roof of mouth, flicks forward as other letters tumble out through vocal strings. I’ve almost mastered the pronunciation of Xhosa. Once again, tongue suctions to roof of mouth and snaps down, over and over again. Xhosa, Xhosa, Xhosa. I ask my mother to repeat the name of this language I am currently obsessed with. The Xh is like a wet snap in the mouth, o sounds like aaaahhhhhh this is finally followed by sa.

Before attending an all-white boarding school and before being fully introduced into the absurd world of segregated South Africa my mother grew up on a farm surrounded by these sounds, by these clicks. Like most white and therefore privileged South Africans of the time my grandparents had help on the farm. This came from a Xhosa family who lived there and whose children were my mothers friends until it was time to be whisked away to not an entirely different world but to one in which the rules and laws of the land were explicitly made clear by new authority figures.

We’re on a short drive to the bottom of Smithers ski hill in northern BC, Canada. I ask mom to say the words once more “say it again, say it again.” I am so close but my mother has tuned out, tired of my demands. We have about 10 minutes before we arrive at our destination, just enough time for Miriam to chime in on the lesson. “Okay fine,” I say “can we listen to The Click song then.” My parents continue talking. “The Click song,” I repeat firmly. Mom leans forward and presses play, her back tense with irritation.
Miriam begins:

In my native village in Johannesburg there is a song that we always sing when a young girl gets married.
It’s called The Click Song by the English because they cannot say ngqothwane.

The song starts and one line is repeated:
Igqira lendlela nguqo ngqothwane
Igqira lendlela nguqo ngqothwane

I focus on these two lines every time they come up in the chorus. Meandering around my mouth my tongue begins its gymnastics. Clicks are thrown here and there bouncing around the car as it swerves between white cold stuff stuck to the sides of the road. My shoulders bop up and down. We are almost there, not quite enough time to press repeat or to prepare myself for cold, blizzards and downhill.

And finally, I cannot end this post without a brief Xhosa lesson.

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