The Click Song
Qongqothwane is a traditional song of the Xhosa people of South Africa. It is sung at weddings to bring good fortune. In thewestern world it is mainly known as The Click Song, a nickname given to the song by European colonials who could not pronounce its Xhosa title, which has many click consonants in it. The Xhosa title literally means “knock-knock beetle”, which is a popular name for various species of darkling beetles that make a distinctive knocking sound by tapping their abdomens on the ground. These beetles are believed by the Xhosa to bring good luck and rain.
The song is known world-wide thanks to the interpretation of South African singer Miriam Makeba (herself a Xhosa). In her discography the songs appears in several versions, both with title Qongqothwane and as The Click Song.
LYRICS and TRANSLATION
There’s more info on this song in Miriam’s book The World of African Song (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971) with the following translation:
“The doctor of the road is the beetle/He climbed past this way They say it is the beetle/Oh! It is the beetle.”
She explains the song as a traditional folk song which refers to the knocking beetle which makes clicking sounds and can revolve the top part of its body in any direction. The beetle is used in children’s games to point the way home, but also has a deeper symbolism, pointing the way to a better future in times of trouble. In her biography (p.86), she mentions singing it in The Village Vanguard Club in New York, and calls it a “Xhosa song about a dreamy bride”
PenguinPoweredPiano gives quite an interesting version of the lyrics:
Qongqothwane is a song about where the village’s witch doctor can be found. This is important because it is the witch doctor who gives good blessings and advice for the future to the Xhosa’s newlyweds. But this witch doctor looks just like a normal person, not like what most people think of when they imagine a witch doctor — strange hair, charms, and all that. So sometimes, he can be hard to find since he looks like everyone else. He is compared to a “knocking beetle,” a type of beetle that makes an abrasive sound when it strikes its abdomen against the ground. Children play with these beetles, and they are said to lead the way home. In a way, the witch doctor is very like the beetle, as he leads the newlywed couple to a new future together in the same way that the beetle leads children home to where they belong.
Igqira lendlela nguqo ngqothwane
The road’s witchdoctor is the knocking beetle
Igqirha lendlela kuthwa nguqo ngqothwane
The witchdoctor of the road is said to be the knocking beetle
Seleqabele gqi thapha nguqo ngqothwane
He has passed by up the steep hill, the knocking beetle
Selequbule gqi thapha nguqo ngqothwane
He did pass by up the steep hill, the knocking beetle