Kathryn Olsen

Research Interests

Maskanda music and musicians occupy a central position in my research which is underpinned by the quest to understand how people make their realities, what they value and how this translates into musical discourse and practice. I am currently working on an NIHSS funded project titled ‘Intersecting Ideologies’ which explores the relationship between traditional beliefs and practices and music (particularly maskanda). As part of this project I scripted and produced a documentary titled, ‘Maskanda and the Professor’ (the professor being a spiritual healer who trades under the name Prof 3 Seconds!) This documentary has been accepted for screening at The African Film Festival (TAFF) in Dallas, USA in June this year. I am currently working on a book on the life and music of Mgqumeni (Khulekani Mseleku/Khumalo), told from different perspectives including those of his relatives, his friends, fellow musicians, producers and followers.

I have a number of different projects in the pipeline, including a biography of jazz guitarist, Themba Mokeona, a documentary on the Mseleku family, and mini documentaries on local musicians such as TV Biyela, and one of the few female maskanda guitarists, Lungile Ngcobo (granddaughter of Shiyani Ngcobo).

I believe that music is a resource that is has an important role to play in transforming South African society. It can operate as medium for advancing respect, understanding and care between people from diverse backgrounds. My work is intended to facilitate this function.

  • 2001: “Mina Ngizokushaya Ngengoma” (I will challenge you with a song): Constructions of Masculinity in Maskanda. Agenda.  
  • 2002: “Constructions of Zuluness in Contemporary Maskanda”.  Ethnomusicology Symposium, Grahamstown  
  • 2003: “Shiyani Ngcobo- Zulu Maskanda”. FRoots Magazine 
  • 2004: “Ethnomusicology, World Music and Shiyani Ngcobo: reflections on the production of tradition and the dynamics of change in post-apartheid South Africa”. Ethnomusicology Symposium, Grahamstown. 
  • 2005: “Representations of Female Identity and Experience in Contemporary Maskanda”. Ethnomusicology/Musicology Conference – Cape Town 
  • 2014: Music and Social Change in South Africa: maskanda past and present. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. 
  • 2017: Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Musics of the World – Entry on Maskanda  
  • 2022: “Sounding South African Township Life” In: The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Place. Geoff Stahl and Mark Percival Eds. New York: Bloomsbury.