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Sounding the Cape Music, Identity and Politics in South Africa

Denis-Constant Martin

Publication Year: 2013

For several centuries Cape Town has accommodated a great variety of musical genres which have usually been associated with specific population groups living in and around the city. Musical styles and genres produced in Cape Town have therefore been assigned an ìidentityî which is first and foremost social. This volume tries to question the relationship established between musical styles and genres, and social ñ in this case pseudo-racial ñ identities. In Sounding the Cape, Denis-Constant Martin recomposes and examines through the theoretical prism of creolisation the history of music in Cape Town, deploying analytical tools borrowed from the most recent studies of identity configurations. He demonstrates that musical creation in the Mother City, and in South Africa, has always been nurtured by contacts, exchanges and innovations whatever the efforts made by racist powers to separate and divide people according to their origin. Musicians interviewed at the dawn of the 21st century confirm that mixture and blending characterise all Cape Townís musics. They also emphasise the importance of a rhythmic pattern particular to Cape Town, the ghoema beat, whose origins are obviously mixed. The study of music demonstrates that the history of Cape Town, and of South Africa as a whole, undeniably fostered creole societies. Yet, twenty years after the collapse of apartheid, these societies are still divided along lines that combine economic factors and ìracialî categorisations. Martin concludes that, were music given a greater importance in educational and cultural policies, it could contribute to fighting these divisions and promote the notion of a nation that, in spite of the violence of racism and apartheid, has managed to invent a unique common culture.

Published by: African Books Collective

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is the outcome of a project that began to take shape through conversations with Professor Simon Bekker (Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Stellenbosch), in the course of which he suggested that I submit a research proposal to the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study (STIAS). I then discussed the idea with Professor Bernard Lategan, the then ...

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pp. xi-xiv

The project which resulted in the present book would probably never have been envisioned if Professor Simon Bekker had not invited me to submit a research proposal to the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies (STIAS). It would not have been realised without the support of STIAS. I wish to express my gratitude to Simon Bekker, Bernard Lategan, who was in 2007 the Director of STIAS and ...


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pp. xv-xxvi

Part One. The Emergence of Creolised Identities

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Chapter One. Music and Identity: A Theoretical Prologue

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pp. 3-52

In his Memories of Slavery, Édouard Glissant, the Martiniquean philosopher who proposed a comprehensive conception of creolisation, suggests that: “Maybe we should be suspicious of the idea of identity, but even more of keeping silent about it” (Glissant 2007: 35). Identity has emerged, during the past 50 years, as a key topic in the social sciences. Since Erik Erikson started studying “identity crises” ...

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Chapter Two. Cape Town’s Musics: A Legacy of Creolisation

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pp. 53-100

The history of Cape Town’s musics has been underpinned by a long process of creolisation, which probably began as soon as Vasco da Gama set foot on the shore of what is today known as Mossel Bay, on 2 December 1497. His party was entertained by a group of Khoikhoi musicians using the hocket technique on their flutes, which had been extremely popular among European composers, ...

Part Two. The Dialectics of Separation and Interweaving

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Chapter Three. Separation and Interweaving in the 20th Century: Futile Separations

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pp. 103-185

In 1901, the authorities took the pretext of an outburst of plague to expel Africans from the centre of Cape Town. Most of them had been living in District Six and were removed to Uitvlugt, which was renamed Ndabeni, before they were transferred again to Langa in the 1920s and 1930s. The displacement of the small number of Africans inhabiting Cape Town at the dawn of the 20th ...

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First Interlude: Vincent Kolbe’s Childhood Memories

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pp. 187-208

Vincent Kolbe was born in District Six on 19 July 1933. He was a librarian, an activist and a musician. As a librarian, he encouraged young people to read, and gave them access to material that could help them develop a critical mind. He worked at the Bonteheuwel ...

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Chapter Four. Separation and Interweaving in the 20th Century: Fertile Intertwining

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pp. 209-257

Vincent Kolbe’s childhood memories exemplify the wealth and diversity of musics that could be heard, appreciated and appropriated in Cape Town. His contention was that Cape Town was a creole city because it was a port city through which echoes of the world could enter South Africa, and be transformed to nourish local processes of creation. Singer Sathima Bea Benjamin mentioned other repertoires ...

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Second Interlude: Chris McGregor Talks about the Blue Notes, Jazz and South African Society

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pp. 259-262

One had to be rash to play in a group like the Blue Notes at the time. We managed to not really infringe the laws. In the Cape the areas we played weren’t the object of strict racial segregation at that time. There was a zone which had not yet been really classified racially and it was there that we played, in one of the ...

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Third Interlude: “Soweto Sun”: An Interview with Rashid Vally by Denis-Constant Martin

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pp. 263-266

Johannesburg doesn’t look the way you’d expect. So-called ‘petty apartheid’ may be in camouflage, but the real oppression is ever more absolute. The city itself seems desegregated, yet certain realities are unavoidable. To get to the Kohinoor Store, you pass not far from the ultra-modern city centre. But behind ...

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Chapter Five. Two Decades of Freedom

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pp. 267-332

On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of the Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl a free man. A few days before, State President F.W. de Klerk had announced that the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) were unbanned. This ushered in a new era, and after protracted and difficult negotiations a new constitutional ...

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Chapter Six.The Musicians’ Discourse: Cape Town as a Musical Potjiekos

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pp. 333-356

The history of music in Cape Town is undeniably a history of interweaving, interlacing and cross-fertilisation; in other words, a history of creolisation. Yet, after three centuries of slavery, segregation and apartheid, how is that history actually understood by the musicians themselves? After decades of categorising music according to separate identities ascribed by racist powers, how do musicians ...

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Conclusion: Recognising Creolisation?

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pp. 357-384

It is December 2007, in Netreg Road, on the fringe of Bonteheuwel, one of these townships that was developed by the apartheid government to relocate coloured Capetonians who were expelled from the city centre. The Netreg Superstars, a small community Klopse troupe, are practising. They are gathered under a makeshift shed, in front of a small house, and are learning a moppie brought by their coach, ...


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pp. 385-410


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p. 411-411

Musicians Interviewed in 2007 and 2009

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p. 412-412


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pp. 413-444

E-ISBN-13: 9781920677169
Print-ISBN-13: 9781920489823

Page Count: 472
Publication Year: 2013