South Africa’s Western Cape region, which stretches from the Namibian border in the north to The Mother City of Cape Town in the south, is quite distinct from the rest of South Africa in terms of its cultural history, politics, and ethnic makeup. The region has a relatively small black population and is the only region where Afrikaans—South Africa’s third most widely spoken tongue—is the primary language, spoken by both a white population and also a large coloured (or mixed race) community. Similarly, the region’s varied musical genres are distinct from those found in the rest of the country.
Musical traditions found in the Cape emerged from the continuous overlapping and interweaving of cultures, the Dutch and British colonizations in the 17th and 18th centuries, the influx of slaves brought from the Indian Ocean basin, and the political protest during the Apartheid era. Even as cultures remain divided along economic and racial lines 20 years since the collapse of Apartheid, it is widely accepted that one of the most significant elements that sets the music of the Cape apart is its rich and hybrid history.
South African singer, songwriter, playwright, and director David Kramer is most noted for his musicals about the Cape coloured (or mixed race) communities, his early opposition to Apartheid, and for being a tireless champion of Cape musical styles and explorer of indigenous genres.
In 2001, he launched a show called Karoo Kitaar Blues, presenting the eccentric guitar styles—with unique finger-picking and tunings—of the marginalized people who live in remote villages and outposts of the semi-desert areas of the Cape region.
Cape Malay music is also a significant part of Cape traditions. Cape Malay refers to an ethnic group that descends from the enslaved peoples from the Indian Ocean basin, including Southeast Asia, Arabia, and East Africa. It was also a subcategory of coloured in the Apartheid-era government's classifications of ethnicity. This community performs an up-tempo, energetic style of singing that combines the harmony and language of Dutch and Afrikaans folk songs with colorful inflections and ornaments from vocal traditions as far afield as Malaysia, Arabia, and East Africa. The annual Cape Minstrel Carnival is a deep-rooted and well-known cultural event that incorporates the Cape Malay comic song (or moppie) and features choir competitions.
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In the early part of the 20th century, American jazz’s influence fell on fertile soil both in Cape Town and throughout South Africa. Musicians of Cape Town incorporated sounds from local folk music, including the rhythm of the ghoema drum and influences from Cape Malay and coloured folk music styles. From this emerged the distinctive Cape jazz sound, which is today celebrated around the world.
Representing a new generation of young Cape jazz musicians, the composer, drummer, and band leader Kesivan Naidoo leads his quintet Kesivan and the Lights in their New York debut.