Tatucili bacoobbwani-21 years of music therapy training in Mzansi

I don’t know about you. For me, as I turned 21, I was scouring the sand at the Almina castle in the land of the back star, Ghana trying to understand why it was important for some people to build the gate of no return. I lost my innocence then. I have kept hoping that I did not lose my decency alongside.


This story is not about me though. This here story is about the coming of age of music therapy in South Africa, affectionally called by those who chose to as Mzansi. Mzansi is a bantu word that translates to the directional word ‘south’. You see that not all that goes south goes wrong. Here in Mzansi, we turn lead into gold. That is why we live in Egoli, the city of gold. We are 21 for a reason. Tatucili bacoobbwani, ciTonga for ‘we are not toddlers anymore’. At 21 we can suitably run ultra-marathons and perhaps win a few. We know that we still have a lot of mileage required for steady physical conditioning, yet we now sit in the company of elders.


On Monday 7th December 2020, the community of music therapists from Mzansi gathered to mark our passage into the community of adults. Something happens when people come together that eludes words. Thanks to covid-19 having altered how we gather, a few of us gathered in person in Cape Town and Tshwane while most of us joined in via our new ally called Zoom.


The gathering began by acknowledging the story of the human community. We invoked the ancestors, people on whose shoulders we stand, the scatterings of Africa, who fill the earth from the cradle of humankind. In our time, they have been embodied in Kobie Swart, Mercedes Pavlicevic, Carol Lotter, Andeline dos Santos, Karen de Kock and Sunelle Fouche, all of whom have been involved in the training of music therapists in South Africa.


We then took about two hours recalling significant experiences in our training. Each group had a turn in reflecting on their experiences. I think turn-taking would need to be revised in the assessment. No more to be said about how we all wanted to take up a little space to be part of the community by chipping in with an anecdote. We are a storied people after all. Our experiences are imperfectly stored in our memories that only come alive in selected moments of connection. While the seasons of training may have differed from one year and group to another, the core seemed to remain; the training will change the trainee. I think music therapy training could rightly be equated to the rite of passage. It is an initiation into a different way of being and participating in the evolution of the universe. Through this training, one has a chance to rediscover the sense of mystery; the mystery of being and the mystery of the encounter with self, other and the whole. This is where one would lose their innocence and hopefully retain their decency. Following each story, the class group was invited to light a candle.


What would a 21st birthday be without the ritualistic acceptance of the legal age to imbibe a little intoxicating beverage? Champaign in moderation keeps the doctor away. Do not take my word for it. Please do not tell your friends about what the doctor who works in substance addiction says. Perhaps you should, because we are therapists neh! I had to speak a little bit of South African. Just in case you are wondering whether South African is a language or that there is a language called South African…NO! We don’t speak a language with the name of the country. Yet…neh is in our manner of speaking. Neh is an exclamation that could mean whatever you want it to mean according to the context. We popped a bottle of champaign to mark the end of boobbwani…toddlerhood.


In the next instalment of this series, lookout for a few more facts and figures from the 21 years of music therapy training. Join us in celebrating this milestone. While I was following the paths of people sold into slavery at 21, music therapy is beginning to define itself Africanly after 21 years of growth. Here’s to our ancestors for planting the seed and to the present trainers and teachers for not abandoning the fort. They will all return home…the gate shall be that of return and find ourselves as if for the first time.



This is an introductory entry of a series of blogs entries to follow that will present a picture of music therapy in Africa. Bear in mind that Africa is a huge continent with diverse cultures and a human population of over a billion. There is no one Africa, there are multiple hues and histories of Africa and Africanity.