Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Zulu - Men of Harlech


  1. Not a proud moment in Wales' history.

  2. No. But a moment nevertheless.

    This scene is largely fictional: apparently there was no singing of Men of Harlech, although the Zulu definitely sing before going into battle. I'd imagine that the British soldiers (most of these soldiers would not have been Welsh, that's another convenient bit of movie truth stretching. The regiment would not become the Welsh Guards for a long time after this encounter) were too exhausted, dehydrated and terrified to sing back.

    What interests me about this scene is the juxtaposition of the singing though, and how music plays such an important part. The Zulu song - I think it's a lament to those about to fall in battle - is truly haunting. I heard it when I was a kid and I've been slightly obsessed by it ever since. Men of Harlech is a great tune too, although this version is changed to avoid references to the 'Saxon foe...'.

    The recent political climate brought this scene - one of desperate, me or him, bloody survivalism - to mind. The boy trying to bugle the retreat but being too dry in the mouth and scared to get the notes out seemed to resonate with me. And it is a brilliant bit of film making that is worth watching at any time.

    But no, it isn't about a proud moment in British history. Or Zulu history for that matter.

    Interestingly though, Welsh and Zulu are one of very few languages to use the voiceless lateral fricative sound (written 'll' in Welsh). So, in addition to a love of male voice singing using powerful and close harmonies, that's another piece of common ground between the Welsh and the Zulu. If only they'd got to know each other first...

  3. OK, interesting. So not a moment in history full stop!

    This makes me think of the WW1 battle scenes in Hedd Wyn and whether they're accurate or not.

    There's a bit where the English officer declares the Welsh will have the "honour" of being on the frontline. I always wondered if that was true or a bit of S4C heart-tugging.

    Back to Welsh, that voiceless lateral fricative was a happy Wikipedia find for me a while back. Greenlandic is another language which uses it.

    English has at least one voiceless sound, the "th" in "thing".

    Also the plural "s" at the end of "things" is voiceless too ain't it?

    Bonus tangential comment. Zulu was the inspiration for hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa calling his crew the Zulu Nation.

  4. "th" and "ll" are actually very similar now you mention it; one just needs to move the tongue back behind the teeth to change from the former to latter. Nice.

    I'm not sure how accurate that scene from Hedd Wyn is. I'm sure the officer classes said things like that all the time, and I'm sure they genuinely believed it as did lots of the soldiers. Our views of war today are so coloured by WW1 that it's very hard to understand what people thought about it at the time. I guess they were trying to convey a general sense of the class and ethnic tensions that came to the surface as a result of the bloodbaths in Belgium and France.

    Was Afrika Bambaataa inspired by the film Zulu or the people itself?


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