• George Samuels

Shosholoza, Zulu Rhythm & Asynchronicity

What a Zulu song taught me about keeping groups in rhythm in an asynchronous world


Music and song are powerful ways to keep groups in rhythm, especially when it comes to mundane tasks.


But I had a dream two nights ago that made me realize how the essence of music & rhythm also applies to keeping teams and communities in sync.


THE DREAM


So yesterday morning, I woke up with a very specific song in my head called “Shosoloza” by Soweto Gospel Choir, a famous South African group.


I had no idea why this song was stuck in my head, but I had to play it throughout the day.

Before I went to bed that night, I remembered the song again and decided to look up the meaning, which sparked an unusual connection.


THE HISTORY


The word shosholoza means “go forward” or “make way for the next man” in Ndebele, a Bantu language spoken by the Northern Ndebele people of Zimbabwe.


According to cultural researchers Booth and Nauright, Zulu workers eventually adopted the song to generate rhythm during group tasks and to alleviate boredom and stress.


Working miners sang the song in time with the rhythm of their swinging axes. It was usually sung under hardship in a call-and-response style (one man singing a solo line and the rest of the group responding by copying him).


Some argue that the song describes the journey to South African mines, while others argue it’s about returning to Zimbabwe.


Either way, it’s often used to compare the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train. Singing “made the work lighter” — something any culture that has experienced hardship can resonate with.


MODERN TEAMS & COMMUNITIES


The song (“Shosholoza”) is now often used in South Africa to show solidarity in sporting and other national events, to relay the message “you are not alone.”


However, the essence of the message can also be applied to observations I’ve made among teams and communities in modern times.


As many companies have moved to more agile, remote, and asynchronous work modes, there’s been a need to figure out ways to “sync up” without relying on traditional physical location and time-blocked hours.


Things like “power hours” or virtual co-working sessions can help immensely in place of physical togetherness.


There’s an excellent Tweet thread by Chris Cunningham, a founding productivity app ClickUp member who outlines nine practices for building asynchronous culture in a distributed team.


These same tips can be applied to building future communities — from Web3 to the metaverse — as we will live in a world where space and time will most likely bend 🙃

And we will need new ways to keep in sync while being “out-of-sync” with the old ways.

It Will Come

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