Kalahari Winds

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In August 2007 I attended the annual dance festival of the Bushmen of southern Africa, held in Botswana. There in the Kalahari desert, I met members of the San tribe, whose lineage dates back over 70,000 years, who until recently still hunted and gathered their food, possessing only what they could carry on their nomadic wanderings across the vast thirstlands of southern Africa.



The San people have been mercilessly persecuted, murdered and marginalised throughout the past century. Their way of life has been forcibly removed, with the fencing of cattle farms denying them access to traditional lands and wells and a ban on hunting leaving them reliant on government handouts. The San I met are the lucky ones; they have a centre for the promotion of their traditions and are keen to make known their existence and their struggles to the rest of the world.

Nights are shudderingly cold in the Kalahari.  Scorpions, snakes and hyenas threaten the unwary.  Dawn brings relief and the sound of birdsong. Around the smouldering fire, the dancers sing on.


The healing dance is central to the San’s existence. Dancing and singing leads to a state of trance for the healers, who will feel the healing energy (n/um) rise up their spine into their head. Then, by laying their hands upon the recipient and blowing into their ears, they restore or maintain wellbeing.


In this track, we hear the healers shouting at the spirits to release people from illness and misfortune.

Track One - Daybreak

Track Three - Noonday Heat

Track Two - Dancing with spirits

The healing dance is central to the San’s existence. Dancing and singing leads to a state of trance for the healers, who will feel the healing energy (n/um) rise up their spine into their head. Then, by laying their hands upon the recipient and blowing into their ears, they restore or maintain wellbeing.


In this track, we hear the healers shouting at the spirits to release people from illness and misfortune.

Track Four - Rains and the Memory of Whales

When the sun is at is zenith, horizons shimmer with watery mirage and a deep silence engulfs the Kalahari. Nothing moves, as all creatures lie in the shade of acacia trees and rocks, waiting for the merciless heat to abate.


This melody is based upon a San song about the pleasure of walking upon soft sand with no stones.

When it finally rains, after months of drought, life erupts in the desert and everyone sings for joy. In this track we hear a reference to whales, for at some time in the distant past, a San artist travelled hundreds of miles to the coast and returned to paint them on rocks. There in the dust and heat they remain, a symbol of the adventurous spirit that drew them.


We hear the water levels rising; symbolic of the rising tide of opposition to the San culture. This water sound is actually a villager playing the takdiri - a small stringed instrument - and the track is processed to produce the required effect.


The voices grow more desperate, yet filled with the same determination that found them traveling six hundred miles to the coast so long ago.


Photos by Lorna Reay