Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

Filtering by Category: Zulu

AT LAST, THE WORLD IS SITTING UP

hartford zulu dancers

Hartford Zulu Dancers
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

AMASNAMUVA

For the last thirteen years, Hartford has championed the cause of Amasnamuva (performers), our Zulu traditional dance troupe, who begged the boss for an audition shortly after the opening of Hartford House as a boutique hotel. Having grown up in Pondoland, he’d seen more traditional dancers than most, and thinking that this might be more of the same, Mick Goss turned up for the audition on a Sunday morning with rather long teeth. Several of the troupe were tender young seedlings of eight and nine years of age, but turn up they did, beautifully regaled (at their own expense) in what it takes to perform this ancient art. They deposited their drums, girded with animal hides, on the flat turf in front of the hotel gazebo, and they beat them with garden hoses in a fashion he’d never encountered before. The remainder of these kids danced their socks off, and they were so good, Mick told them that henceforth, they’d be a permanent fixture for the pleasure of our guests every Saturday evening, weather permitting.

Until three years ago, they’d never ventured much further than Mooi River, but at the first opportunity, won the KZN Provincial Championships and the right to attend the National Championships, which they proceeded to win as well. Miraculously, this earned them a place at the World Traditional Dance Championships in Tokyo where, of 46 contesting nations, they finished third in the whole dam world!. A year later, they were in Hong Kong, and in their second place, they earned the title of Best Dance Troupe on the African continent. We fully expected them to take the World Championship in the United States this year, but sadly that contest was postponed because of that country’s financial plight.

It seems though, the word is out. Writing in “The Mercury” on Monday, Latoya Newman writes :

What was once a form of cultural dance used by a people to celebrate weddings, the inauguration of a King, winning a war, the birth of a child and more, is fast becoming an artistic dance expression that has crowds mesmirised the world over.

Over the years, Zulu dancing has evolved into a stage phenomenon which many dance schools and professionals have not only embraced on its own, but have merged with other dance forms of dance to create the ever popular "fusion".

Its popularity became more obvious on SA's Got Talent.

Kee-Leen Irvine, executive producer for Rapid Blue who produced the show said it saw about 100 cultural dance groups, many of then Zulu cultural items.

"The response from the audience, across cultures, to these items was phenomenal."

Beside the increasing interest in these forms of dance, what is also apparent is that over the years more and more people from other cultural backgrounds are embracing Zulu dance forms.

Xolani Majozi, theatre producer and compiler at K-Cap, an arts development company based in KwaMashu, said his group - which has toured the country and the world - is always well received.

"Whenever we do a theatre or musical production we make sure it is traditional, because of its appeal to the audience, especially international audiences. When you go overseas and you say you are doing a South African production, they expect to see Zulu dance.

"Umoja and IpiNtombi, for example, have toured in different countries and Zulu dancing has made those groups famous. Zulu dancing is being embraced across cultures.

Even if you look back at groups like Johnny Clegg and Juluka and Savuka, what made them popular was the Zulu element," said Majozi.

Professor Musa Xulu, a Durban-based ethno-musicologist and heritage consultant, said every society had some form of dance that became "folk" dance.

"From time to time people use these dance forms for commercial reasons and Zulu dance is no different," he said.

Xulu said Zulu dance was "perfected" in the hostels and mines with competitions that took place on weekends, especially in Durban.

"But at that time people danced for social reasons, like for courtship and so on. Over the past 15 years or so, a commercial element has started creeping in. Among other things, the "brand" Zulu has become a recognised brand across the world because of history," he said.

Xulu said today most dancers came from township areas because young people there have recognised "the gap in the market" and that if you had a Zulu dance product and added modern elements to it, you had popular dance. "It is a way to make a living, so it is commercialised."

Xulu said it was good that other people from different cultures were participating.

"Any art form grows a lot when people from diverse backgrounds enter it. If you look at pennywhistle music, for example, once Mango Groove embraced it, it became a world phenomenon. People from diverse backgrounds will come with different ideas," he said.

As is the case with the Surialanga Dance Company. Artistic Director Suria Govender said they embraced a fusion of cultures in their performances, which had travelled abroad.

She believes that not only will Zulu dance continue to grow in the arts, but that fusion (a mix of Zulu, Indian and other cultural dances) will also become trendier.

"It is an expression of our identity as South Africans. We are a melting pot of cultures and the arts is one way for us to see how we understand where we are at," she said.

HARTFORD HOUSE DANCERS : A National Institution

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Hartford House Zulu Dance Troupe
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

About ten years ago, a group of local kids approached us with a view to auditioning as a traditional dance troupe. Mick Goss grew up in the heartland of traditional dancing in one of the remotest parts of South Africa, and he’d seen just about every traditional dance there was to be seen. Reluctantly, and only because they represented families of our disadvantaged, he and Cheryl agreed to attend an audition on Hartford’s front lawn. In the event, some 30 turned up, ranging from ages 8 to 18, together with six makeshift drums, strapped with animal hides and beaten with garden hoses as substitutes for the traditional drumsticks.

Remember, the judges had sat through more than a thousand renditions of traditional dance routines in their lives to that point, so this had to be impressive to become anything more than just another audition. Yet these kids were so good, when the show was over, it took the Gosses less than a minute to decide they would be a permanent fixture, on duty every Saturday evening at Hartford House for as long as the weather permitted. These youngsters were not just talented, they had regaled themselves in the full ceremonial gear at their own expense, yet they were part of an impoverished community. No doubt about their determination, not to mention their self belief.

Until three years ago, they’d never ventured beyond the confines of Mooi River, then, out of the blue, they were invited to perform at the Provincial Championships in Durban. There they won the right to represent KZN at the National Championships, and the rest is a fairytale. As the best dance group in South Africa, they were sent to Tokyo for the World Traditional Dance Championships, and on debut, they ranked third, in the whole darn world! It’s barely believable, we know, but here they were, the only team on the African continent to rank this high, and a year later, in Hong Kong, they finished second.

Reality is, this team is still a “work in progress”, and they’re getting better by the day, to the degree that we were confident, had it taken place as scheduled in the United States earlier this year, they might’ve returned with the World crown. Sadly, the present economic climate in the United States has led to the postponement of the event, but these youngsters will still have their day.

You need only ask those that’ve witnessed their routine to know how good they are. And while a man of Michael Jackson’s dance talents owes everything he’s knows to his African roots, he’d struggle to make the “bench” in the Hartford troupe.

FORT DURNFORD, ESTCOURT

Major Anthony William Durnford / Fort Durnford (p)

Major Anthony William Durnford / Fort Durnford (p)

Strategically positioned atop a dominant stand overlooking the old military post at the Bushman’s River drift, the allegedly “haunted” Fort Durnford is a must visit for Hartford House guests exploring the Estcourt region.

The position was first occupied in 1847 but following the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873 and the resultant fear that abounded within the British outposts, was later fortified. Fort Durnford, as it stands today, was constructed in 1874 by Major Anthony William Durnford of the British Colonial Engineers in order to protect the Estcourt townspeople from possible Zulu attack. Today it houses the Estcourt Museum.

Fort Durnford was designed as a substantial stronghold, built in a rectangular shape from local sandstone. The walls are two feet thick and rise approximately thirty feet in height with two square towers and heavily barred windows throughout. The windows were originally fitted with heavy iron shutters, turning on hinges spiked to the walls.

Upon entering the Fort, a stone paved hall gives way to the heart of this bastion, with guard rooms, barracks and storerooms. Leading from a side passage which was used for the movement of prisoners and was originally closed by a grille, there are doors to a vaulted powder-magazine and offices.

An underground water tank lies buried beneath the paving of one of the rooms, and two "secret" tunnels lead from the remains of a pit hidden beneath the ground floor of the North-West tower. It is believed that one tunnel heads North-West towards the military post at the drift and the other North-East, exiting from the hillside. These tunnels would have been vital for the safe movement of supplies and for stealthy escapes.

The Fort Durnford museum has many interesting artifacts on display including fossils, Iron Age and Stone Age relics, old wagons and models depicting the historic Natal battles. The museum also showcases one of the largest birds’ egg collections.

Fort Durnford is open from Monday to Sunday, 09h00 - 12h00 and 13h00 - 16h00 and entrance is free, although there is a “donation box” which aims to assist in the maintenance of this significant monument of South African interest.

If you plan to set off early, the Hartford kitchen will gladly prepare a delicious picnic basket for your day's adventures.

THE TREASURED GETAWAY

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Life in Africa really is a paradox. Every evening at home, we tune into Sky channel to catch up with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. The talk is quite depressing, and if it’s not war, it’s the financial crisis. On the other hand, we look at our guests at Hartford House and we see people from England, California, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australia, and we’re heartened that they take such trouble and travel so far to visit us. Truth is, more than ever, international travellers are looking for value destinations these days, and with the Rand trading in the vicinity of 10 to the dollar, you get no better bang for your buck than here in South Africa in general, and at Hartford especially.

In the last fortnight, we were honoured with the visit of an octet of some of the world’s top businessmen, who flew in from three different countries on three different private jets, and while the nature of their visit was private to the degree of their remaining largely anonymous, they proclaimed Hartford one of the best hotels in the world. Coming from people who can obviously afford to stay anywhere at any price, this is as rich a compliment as any hotel could wish for. It says something for our people, where they come from, and where they still have go. Hartford is very much a work in progress as far as its people are concerned, and the exciting thing is, we’ve still got so much to learn and so much to give.

At least one of them though, the celebrated anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, broke (excuse the pun!) his veil of secrecy when his account of their African pilgrimage was posted on YouTube (click here to watch). Here’s a man who’s traversed the length and breadth of the planet, spoken to kings, queens and presidents, yet had the time to reflect on his “Zulu” experience.

We have some treasured friends in residence as we write, one of whom, Angus Gold, is the personal emissary of the Rulers of Dubai. Angus was instrumental in bringing about Sheikh Hamdan's substantial investment in bloodstock at Summerhill two decades ago this year, and he is one of our firmest friends. Our lives light up when he gets here, and his departure leaves something of a hole, though for those who’ve had to stay up at night, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Also aboard at the moment is a legend of the South African business environment in Freddy Hirsch, arguably South Africa’s best known dealer in spices. Freddy is here as the guest of Eskort Bacon factory, celebrating his 80th birthday, and he’s in remarkably good shape. He survived a primary school education in the company of another of our great friends and horse racing colleagues, Graham Beck, (who’s lived life to a degree few of us could imagine,) and Freddy’s built a business empire of astounding proportions. Interestingly, the founders of Hartford, the Moor family (who spawned the last Prime Minister of the Colony as well as a Senator in the first South African government) were also co-founders of the Eskort Bacon factory and what is now known as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent. The visitations by Arnold Prinsloo, CEO of Eskort, and his cohorts are something of a homecoming for us.

The truth is incontrovertible: The Best Value in the World.

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The Hartford Zulu Dance Troupe
(Hartford House)

paula_mackenzie

One thing you’ll always notice about the change of seasons in the Drakensberg area, is that each season has a distinct character, and this year Spring has been as spectacular as ever.

It’s not only the birds that are singing: undoubtedly the best boy’s choir in the world, the Drakensberg Boys' Choir, is situated just up the road from us and they’re preparing for their Summer and Christmas seasons. If you’re in the vicinity of Hartford House, be sure to let us arrange a visit for you to one of life’s most outstanding choral experiences. We can even pack you a delicious picnic lunch and direct you via South Africa’s art capital, Clarens, all in the same morning.

Besides a burst of greenery and the profusion of young buds, they’re foaling “royalty” at South Africa’s champion racehorse breeding establishment, Summerhill Stud. This weekend also witnessed the departure of more than 100 bouncing two-year-olds to the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale in Johannesburg, on their way to racing glory no doubt.

Most of these youngsters have never set foot on a moving vehicle in their lives, and it’s a joy to watch the skills of our young Zulu horsemen coaxing them aboard to the encouraging serenades of school children, wives and "gogos" (or grandmothers) at the loading ramps.

You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to get among the trophy trout on this property. Just a few weekends back, two of our young guests availed themselves of our "master-class fly casting lessons", and each came away with prize trout of between six and seven pounds.

Another couple, whilst enjoying a “bomb-proof” horse ride in the direction of the Boathouse and Magic Mirror lake, were thrilled by a sudden stampede of startled Reedbuck and the sighting of the endangered Oribi.

We continue to be surprised, (but oh so pleasantly) at the pilgrimage of foreigners who travel from so far to visit with us at Hartford.

While we’ve always enjoyed a healthy sprinkling of Brits and Europeans, and a throng from the horse-loving countries to the west and east of us, we appear to have new devotees from the United States and Australia. People are supposedly rediscovering their roots, and it seems this area (Hartford House and Summerhill in particular) offers one of the warmest, most hospitable and genuinely authentic experiences on the planet.

There are others who delight in the entertainment of our Zulu dance troupe, and it’s a source of considerable pride to tell you that in a couple of weeks, they'll be winging their way to their third World Traditional Dance Championships to be held in the United States. The troupe have already achieved 2nd and 3rd in Tokyo and Hong Kong respectively and believe they now know how it’s done, and we’re confident they’ll return home the best Traditional Dance troupe in the world.

We know we don’t have to ask you to join us in wishing them well on their way. It’s the visits of our Guests that have encouraged and uplifted our people to such a degree, and we’re forever grateful for the contributions you make.

We sincerely hope this note finds you in the “pink”. If you aren’t already on your way to us, please visit us on our website at www.hartford.co.za for the latest in what’s up at Hartford. There’s just a tiny chance we might be able to lure you back before too long!

With the Rand at unprecedented levels against the major currencies, South Africans will be staying at home more than ever, and our foreign friends will find us the best value in the world, by a country mile.

Warmest regards,

PAULA MACKENZIE
HARTFORD HOUSE