Power of music and the mind explored and celebrated

Many traditions and cultures have subconsciously aided the wellbeing of one’s mind through music and sound.

A neurologist and music psychotherapist tackled the maze of the mind together on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Wits Origins Centre through a mental wellness and brain health seminar on International Museum Day.

Human brains have a potential that is unfathomable, and whilst people think we only use 10% of our brains at a time, they are mistaken.

Most of our brain is being used most of the time, even while sleeping, and over 85 billion neurons in our brains are always firing some sort of signal.

However, with all this brain power comes the largest emotional intelligence amongst all mammals. This EQ of humans is the area studied by neurologist and brain health specialist, Dr Kirti Ranchod, and music psychotherapist, Nsamu Moonga.

Music is all around us — at birthdays, funerals, weddings, political rallies — and each scene sounds very different from the next, which is a subconscious understanding, Dr Ranchod explained.

Dr Ranchod said music is linked to both memory and emotion. When a person hears a specific song, they relive a specific experience, which leads to them feeling a specific emotion.

This is the basis from which Moonga bases his therapy techniques. He explained how humans forget things as a survival technique yet create rituals to ensure they do not forget what is important — the earth rotating completely around the sun, a human life ending, a life of two people beginning for instance.

Yet, Dr Ranchod said how music is exceptionally personal where one type of tune will relax someone whilst it will trigger another. .

To pay homage to International Museum Day, Dr Ranchod spoke about the San Trance Dance which is one of the earliest rituals known to date that used music to bind a group together.

The Trance Dance is a permanent feature at the Origins Centre — which traces human life back nearly two million years — because it sees the beginning of humans living in communities and activating their energies to connect with the spirit world.

With sound, rhythm, movement, and dance used to alter reality, shift consciousness, and change perception, this was the start of music therapy in practice.

Museums document the history we all share and allows for the interception of the past, present, and future. They allow us to understand who we are, where we come from and are the physical pallbearers of memory.

FEATURED IMAGE: Modern-day rock art as appearing in the Origins Centre to showcase how the past is still very much in the present. Photo: Victoria Hill


SLICE: Imposter syndrome — My quest to silencing self-doubt

As an honours student in journalism, when navigating the challenges of upholding academic
rigour and minimising self-doubt, I battle with myself.

Usually when I sit in my journalism lectures, surrounded by talented peers and esteemed professors, I often hear a nagging voice: You do not belong here. It’s a feeling that’s all too familiar: imposter syndrome. The feeling that I am just pretending, and everyone will soon discover my inadequacy.

Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon where individuals doubt their own abilities, despite evidence of their competence. In my own experience, I’ve seen talented students question their own intelligence and capabilities, attributing their achievements to sheer luck or
circumstance; rather than their own hard work and dedication.

A study published in the Journal of Student Research found that imposter syndrome is a significant predictor of academic anxiety and depression among young graduates.

Personally, I have been guilty of downplaying my own achievements, including my decision to pursue my honours in Journalism. I have often made jokes to my friends that I am only here by some miracle, or that I am just winging it and hoping for the best.

However, the truth is, I have worked incredibly hard to be here, and I have earned my place in this programme. I started to realise that it is time for me to own that; and recognise my achievements are not a result of circumstance, but of my own dedication and perseverance.

I’ve been so hard on myself; but hearing how my close friends and family are proud of me, has helped me to start celebrating my own accomplishments.

As I navigate my own struggles with imposter syndrome, I’ve learned to not take my inner voice too seriously. When self-doubt creeps in, I reflect on my accomplishments — like completing a challenging assignment or receiving positive feedback from a lecturer. By focusing on my strengths and reframing my mindset, I’m building confidence in my abilities and overcoming the grip of imposter syndrome. 

I also try not to dwell too much on my mistakes by recoginsing that perusing this degree has offered me the opportunity to learn; while I get to focus on my passion of telling stories. This has helped me to see failure as an opportunity for growth. When I receive constructive criticism or face setbacks, I use it as a chance to learn and improve.

Also, surrounding myself with a supporting community has helped because they see me behind my current struggles. I believe by acknowledging and challenging our own imposter syndrome, we can begin to break down the barriers that hold us back from achieving our full potential, and we can learn to embrace our success. And as we do, we will find that we are more confident, more resilient, and more empowered to make a meaningful impact in the world around us.

FEATURED IMAGE: Katlego Mtshali: File/Leon Sadiki


The psychology behind the calling


VOICES: A talking snake led to Nomasonto Baloyi-Tsotetsi discovering her calling as a sangoma. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

She was only a teenager when a black snake with a white collar-like stripe around its neck spoke to her. Little did she know this conversation would last a life-time.

“When people would speak to me I would hear voices inside my head,” said Wits Art Museum’s (WAM) administrative assistant Nomasonto Baloyi-Tsotetsi.

Tsotetsi is one of the many sangomas whose ancestral calling can be diagnosed by modern psychologists as schizophrenia.

Clinical psychologist Dr Esther Price confirmed that the symptoms of schizophrenia present themselves in similar ways as the ancestral calling (known as ubizo, when the ancestors call you to perform a particular task)

“Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychological condition where you hear voices,” said Price. She noted that both the “calling” and schizophrenia involved the hearing of voices. However symptoms of schizophrenia are more distinct.

Psychologists often confuse the ancestral calling with schizophrenia as the symptoms present themselves in similar ways, according to a member of the Traditional Healers’ Association and operational manager at the mental illnes hospital, Sterkfontien Hospital, Iris Mahlangu.

“They don’t take us seriously, they classify traditional callings as a ‘culture bound’ syndrome – meaning we are mad”, said Mahlangu.

Senior lecturer at Wits’ School of Community and Human Development Dr Molose Langa disputes the idea that the ancestral calling is a schizophrenic condition. But he does concede that it can be misdiagnosed. Langa confirms that ancestral callings have very little to do with psychology, but suggests that in the past people who had these symptoms would be sent to the mental hospital.

Tsotetsi, 45, has been a traditional healer for more than half her life, spending 17 of those years working in different departments at Wits University. Tsotetsi said her ubizo was confirmed by her grandfather’s friend who had the same calling.

“It was at my grandfather’s funeral when his friend walked up to my grandmother and told her that the snake I had seen and spoken to was not a real snake. It was a snake that was sent by the ancestors”, said Tsotetsi.

“I was scared that the ancestors would kill me and my three children”, said Tsotesti who confi rmed that her divorce may have been a result of the ancestors not wanting her to get married.

Tsotesti was initially angry about being chosen as a traditional healer but has learnt to accept it as part of her life.