14 Dezember 2020 | Tourismus

When the Minstrel Troupes are marching In

By Christina Rockstroh

Sequins and gold embroidery on brightly coloured satin glitter and sparkle under the blue summer sky. It’s the day of the annual Minstrel Carnival in Cape Town when the klopse (minstrel clubs) are moving through the city centre in their thousands to the irresistible sound of banjos and guitars, maracas and cymbals, trumpets, tubas and trombones - and the ghoema, of course. This uniquely South African drum is a small wine barrel with a goatskin membrane.

The vibrant atmosphere is infectious.
More than 70 minstrel clubs, boasting a total of some 15 000 members, regularly take part in the celebration of Tweede Nuwe Jaar, the Second New Year. Most of them come from the Coloured communities of the Cape Flats, the more remote residential areas near False Bay. Klopse membership is a tradition in many families. The preparations for the great event strengthen bonds.

The route through the city centre to Cape Town Stadium in Green Point is always the same. The formal announcement of every troupe at the old town hall on the Parade is the proudest moment.

The resonant procession has its origins in the days of slavery in the Cape. Slaves who played a musical instrument were particularly sought after for the house orchestras of wealthy households. Since most of the slaves came from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), their musical tradition merged with contemporary European dance music. Mixed with influences from India, Madagascar, Mozambique and local Khoi, a sound and rhythm evolved which became known as Ghoema - like the wine barrel drum. It is still the original minstrel sound.

January 2nd was the only day that slaves were given off. The house musicians played their instruments on the way to visit others. When slavery in the Cape Colony ended in 1834, the Mother City saw its biggest procession yet.

The shining suits are also remnants from that time. Skilful seamstresses used leftover scraps of satin and silk from their madam’s gowns for the musicians’ outfits.

Club membership is open to the whole family and everyone proudly wears the club’s distinctive suit. The exception in the sea of colourful satin are the "Moffies", i.e. men wearing dresses, and the members of the Atja Club. They are disguised as Red Indians and rush past other troupes with war cries and red devils hot on their heels.

After the New Year's procession the clubs compete throughout January to win the titles for best music, best dance performance and best costumes.