Amajimbos look to take harmony on the pitch
It is an astonishing noise. With about ten minutes to kick off, standing in the tunnel close to where the players head out onto the pitch at the Estadio Municipal Ester Roa in Concepcion is a rather unique experience when South Africa are about to play at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
From the distant dressing room, singing reverberates down the long corridor. The noise gets louder, with clapping, whistles and a cacophony of other sounds adding to the fervent mix of a pre-match chorus, which is sung in perfect harmony. The Amajimbos are approaching. It reaches a deafening crescendo as the players dance into their position, ready to enter their battleground, the pitch.
“It is to boost our confidence, to make our opponents scared,” Sphephelo Sithole said. He is flanked by his captain Nelson Maluleke and team-mates Vuyo Mantjie and Notha Ngcobo for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, which they promise will include a private rendition of one of their traditional songs.
“It gives our team a motivation,” Mantjie said. “When you’re about to play a match you become anxious, and it takes away the fear.”
In the tunnel before the games, the singing and dancing seems so natural, so unchoreographed, and the players reveal that is the case, with no single member of the squad taking sole responsibility for beginning a song – it is completely spontaneous. The origins are rooted in their homeland.
“It’s something from our culture,” Ngcobo said. “When you sing and you dance, you become free. When we sing, it’s like we are in South Africa – even though we know we are in Chile. We see people from our country. You don’t think about anything else, you just feel comfortable.”
We’re not going there just to make up the numbers. We are going there to fight.
Their harmonies have won them fans around the world, and they are winning supporters among the locals in Chile. “Everytime we sing, I see people taking pictures and video,” Ngcobo continued. “It means they appreciate what we’re doing. That’s how people end up supporting us.”
Although they have been winning fans, they have yet to win a game at Chile 2015, a fact they hope to alter in their final Group E game against Russia.
“We’re not going there just to make up the numbers,” Maluleke said. “We are going there to fight. It is like a final for us, it is a must-win, so that we can go to the next round.”
No player wants to leave a tournament early, but for the South Africans there is certainly an extra incentive – it is exam season. They shake their heads and all four explain that they want to stay in Chile for as long as possible, to avoid their dreaded maths exams.
As the interview concludes, the players explain the meaning of the particular song they have chosen to share with FIFA.com. It is a church hymn, focusing on the resurrection of Christ that they have – of course – put an Amajimbo spin on. A remix, if you like.
“Are you sure you’re going to cope with this song?” Ngcobo asks. “It gets very loud.”
Ngcobo begins solo. The other three respond in unison, in perfect harmony. A call and response ensues with the others joining Ngcobo at regular intervals. They begin to loosen, lose themselves, click their fingers and stomp their feet with their heads bowed. In the empty restaurant of their hotel in Concepcion they are whisked back to South Africa, their family with them as they recite a song they have surely sung hundreds of times before. It is somewhat low key, not as up tempo as some of their tunnel tunes, but certainly intense enough to channel and focus the energy of their team-mates.
Whatever the result on Sunday, the team spirit inside the camp of the only debutants at Chile 2015 will clearly remain strong. In their quest for progress, the Amajimbos will now look to take their harmony off the pitch across that white line against Russia. If they can play as beautifully as they sing, they are certain contenders to reach the knockout stages.
— South African U/17 (@Amajimbosu17) October 25, 2015