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From Cape Town’s cosmopolitan melting pot come two choirs that combine all the colours and tastes of the rainbow nation. Accompanied by banjo, guitar, bass guitar and drum, the Cape Traditional Singers perform a mix of merry Dutch ‘moppies’ and ‘nederlandsliedjies’, Malaysian elements and traditional folk songs, whilst the young singers of the iGugu Le Kapa (Pride of Cape Town) choir blend European polyphony with the typical, layered rhythms of African song. Prepare for a spirited performance brimming with excitement!
From Cape Town’s melting pot come two choirs that combine all the colours and flavours of the rainbow nation. The Cape Traditional Singers perform a mix of merry Dutch ‘moppies’ and nostalgic ‘nederlandsliedjies’, accompanied by a small ensemble of guitars, banjo, bass guitar and percussion. The young singers of the choir iGugu Le Kapa combine European harmonization with African forms of group singing. Each of the choirs first performs separately, after which they join forces in a spirited finale that includes Pata Pata, the famous song popularized by Miriam Makeba in 1957.
The Cape Traditional Singers were founded in 1981 by Anwar Gambeno, as The Tulips. For performances abroad, such as in Nantes in 1997 and in Lisbon the following year, this men’s choir changed its name to Cape Traditional Singers. Like many of his South African colleagues, Gambeno has no formal music training. ‘I can’t read or write music,’ he says, ‘but I have ears.’ And that he does indeed: Gambeno creates his compositions and three- or four-part vocal arrangements entirely in his head.
The repertoire of the Cape Traditional Singers is very diverse. Gambeno formed his choir in order to perform the music of two typical South African societies: the various Malay Choirs of the Cape Malays, an Islamic community in Cape Town where big choir competitions are organized every year; and the Klopse, troupes of minstrels who dress up in clownish costumes and sing cheerful songs like the amusing ‘moppies’ in Afrikaans. At the Holland Festival, the Cape Traditional Singers are doing two sets, the second of which is devoted to this infectious carnival music.
The main repertoire of the Malay Choirs is the so-called ‘nederlandsliedjies’, songs with melodies and lyrics partly originating from Dutch that often have a melancholic tone. One of the most popular ‘nederlandsliedjies’ is Rosa, a song about unswerving love in a society marked by slavery and racism that has been performed at Islamic weddings on the Cape ever since the 1930s, or even earlier. The virtuoso vocal technique of the lead singer clearly reflects the intonation and melodic flavour of the Arab music that the Cape Malay people originally introduced in South Africa and have passed on from generation to generation.
The mixed young people’s choir iGugu Le Kapa (‘Pride of Cape Town’) was previously known as the Fezeka Youth Choir. It was founded at the beginning of this century by teacher and conductor Phume Tsewu when he taught at Fezeka High School, but it keeps up a tradition that goes back to the Scottish missionaries who opened a mixed boarding school on the Cape in 1841. The students combined the polyphonic music that was part of the study programme with indigenous singing traditions, such as layered rhythms and question/answer structures.
The talented members of iGugu Le Kapa sing a repertoire that largely consists of works by South African composers who themselves grew up in the same choral tradition as iGugu Le Kapa. This music, which at first often sounds like conventional European singing, continually surprises with a character all its own; the choir’s lively presentation also contributes to this. Plea for Africa, composed by John Knox Bokwe in 1892 while on tour through England with a South African choir, is a classic by now. Besides compositions by Joshua Pulumo Mohapeloa, Michael Moerane and others, the repertoire also includes traditional songs – such as Shosholoza, about the train that used to carry mineworkers to the mines, which the choir strikingly portrays in its performances. Nowadays, Shosholoza is often sung at the matches of Bafana Bafana, the South African national football team.
At first it might seem odd that a choir like iGugu Le Kapa also sings Heimwee (homesickness), a favourite song of the Afrikaners that bears the stamp of Boer nationalism, but Heimwee is actually about city people who long for the countryside – and a love of the wide-open ‘veld’ is capable of crossing boundaries and uniting the people of South Africa.