It is a mix of Zulu and Ndebele words, and can have various other South African languages thrown in depending on the singers. It was sung by all-male African workers that were working in the South African mines in a call and response style. The song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa's second national anthem.
Although the original author of the song is Masingita Ngoveni, "Shosholoza" is a traditional miner's song, originally sung by groups of men from the Ndebele ethnic group that travelled by steam train from their homes in Zimbabwe formerly known as Rhodesia to work in South Africa's diamond and gold mines. The Ndebele live predominantly in Zimbabwe near its border with South Africa. Some people argue that the song describes the journey to the mines in South Africa, while others say it describes the return to Zimbabwe. According to cultural researchers Booth and Nauright, Zulu workers later took up the song to generate rhythm during group tasks and to alleviate boredom and stress.
It was usually sung under hardship in call and response style one man singing a solo line and the rest of the group responding by copying him.
He described it as "a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train" and went on to explain that "the singing made the work lighter". In contemporary times, it is used in varied contexts in South Africa to show solidarity in sporting events and other national events to relay the message that the players are not alone and are part of a team. Climate activists made the song the centrepiece of their Occupy COP17 rally on 9 December , the final day of the United Nations climate treaty negotiations.
Activists were calling on negotiators to "Stand With Africa" and agree to a legally binding and effective treaty. The song was usually sung to express the hardship of working in the mines. It expresses heartache over the hard work performed in the mines.
The word Shosholoza or "tshotsholoza! The sound "sho sho" uses onomatopoeia and reminiscent of the sound made by the steam train stimela. The song is also used in pop culture to convey messages of hope and solidarity for athletes during competitions or in other times of hardship and distress. The song gained further popularity after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup , and is a favourite at sport events in South Africa.
The song was recorded, mastered and released in five days, having been mastered in the UK to get it ready in time for the first game in the RWC. The record went gold in sales terms. Sacha Baron Cohen sings this song in an attempt to calm angry Arizonites who do not welcome a construction of a mosque in their town.
The first African challengers for the America's Cup , Team Shosholoza , took their name from the song; as did the Shosholoza Meyl , a long-distance passenger train service operating in South Africa. The song is also used as a campfire song by scouts in South Africa. The lyrics of the song vary, as do the transcriptions. In the older traditional styles, the words translate to "train from Rhodesia".
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