As a new parent, I was not prepared for the many sleepless hours I would spend rocking and holding my son. Every hour that passed as he continued to squirm and cry and look around with wide-open eyes left me feeling increasingly despondent, hopeless in my role as a parent and exhausted. I found myself battling between a deep love for this child, a desperate longing to "make everything alright" and wanting to just put him down and run...
On many such nights, I was thankful for a repertoire of lullabies that I could sing to him. Whether it was the familiar and comforting sound of my voice, the soothing repetitiveness of the simple melodies or my own increasing calmness that induced a feeling that "all was well" for my son, somehow these songs helped him to quiet himself. Gradually, he was able to drift once more to sleep, filling me with a hope that we would get through the night.
Current events making headlines in South Africa have left many in this country with feelings of despondence similar to those I have experienced as a new parent. 2008 bombarded us with continuing reports of high crime rates, incidents of xenophobic violence and ongoing poverty only heightened by the economic crisis. Meanwhile, our politicians have appeared preoccupied with their own in-fighting, power struggles and political manoeuvring (De Lange 2008), to the extent that issues such as HIV/Aids and the Zimbabwean situation have been shrouded with an alarming silence. Having celebrated our new democracy, our country now finds itself once more in a place of tension. Like a young child who cannot sleep, South Africa is uncertain, anxious and unable to become quiet and rest. In discussion with a friend who has recently emigrated from South Africa, I asked whether she would ever consider returning. Her reply: "Well, I would first want to know that there's hope for the country."
The recent passing away of Miriam Makeba offers a reminder that music does not wait for a time when we know there is hope, but can create the possibility or the space for hope to emerge. Through her experiences of exile and the pain of oppression under apartheid, the affectionately known "Mama Africa" sang her stories – "lullabies" to comfort her anxious, sleepless people. In a tribute to Makeba, Mandela commented: "She was a mother to our struggle and to this young nation of ours... her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us." (Mail and Guardian Online, 2008).
In 2009 South Africa is once again in need of lullabies. Freedom singers such as Miriam Makeba have carved out a rich heritage for musicians in this country, and possibly place some responsibility on those musicians that follow to offer our songs.
2009 marks the 10th anniversary of the music therapy masters course at the University of Pretoria, and thus offers an opportunity for reflection on where our profession has come from and the direction we may take in the future. As young, often inexperienced therapists, we have at times struggled to gain recognition and parent this new profession. Yet we can celebrate the many lullabies that have already emerged from music therapy in South Africa, taking place in a kaleidoscope of different institutions and communities. We may not have performed songs for a people oppressed by apartheid, but have made music together with those oppressed or impoverished by illnesses and disabilities that limit their ability to participate fully within society. We have shared in the creation of songs of joy, celebration and hope alongside those struggling with hopelessness, despair or frustration.
As music therapists, we may not be South Africa's most important or public lullaby singers. But we have music, songs, and stories of hope and comfort to offer. In the past ten years, many of our lullabies have been sung quietly, remembered and shared only within the boundaries of our own workplaces. Here is an opportunity sing our lullabies more boldly by broadening the contexts in which we work and in which we talk about our work, offering some respite in the turmoil of our nation and allowing space for hope to emerge.
De Lange, D. (2008). How SA's leaders undermine the crime fight. Independent Online. Retrieved December 12, 2008, from http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=13&set_id=1&art_id=vn20081213084408331C221553.
Mail & Guardian Online. (2008). SA mourns Makeba, musical 'mother' of the nation. Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved December 12, 2008, from http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-11-10-sa-mourns-makeba-musical-mother-of-the-nation.
Oosthuizen, Helen (2009). Lullabies for a Nation. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=coloosthuizen120109