Hello Cape Town, tell me how you're grooving

Goema, Goema, Goema. It's the soundtrack of the Mother City, and it's growing with the groove

Cultural tourists and enthusiasts in Cape Town are often a little disappointed in local music. Not because it isn't good, but because it isn't 'African'. Where are the drums, where are the dancers, they wonder. And ki lililili, they come to consume, and get the Dirty Skirts instead of grass skirts, Beatenberg instead of Mannenberg jazz.

Yet there is a sound both historically and creatively unique to the city. It's so seamlessly a part of our collective heritage that the average wo/man in the street is almost entirely unaware of it. Goema rhymes with 'Zuma', can be just as loud, yet its innovators show that it can also challenge guide book assumptions and go beyond its traditional mould of genre and subcultural flag.

"Goema, Goema, Goema". What is Goema?

 

"The word is generally pigeonholed as referring to Cape carnival-esque folk music, but that’s just where it begins," says Calum MacNaughton, filmmaker and co-producer of the eminent music documentary Jou Ma Se Goema. "There are many different perspectives on what exactly modern Goema amounts to, which makes it hard to define, but also exciting and open to possibility."

The Wikipedia one-liner is about as helpful as a tap in a desert.  All it has to say is that Goema "is a type of hand drum used in the Coon Carnival and in Cape Jazz in Cape Town. The name also refers to a type of jazz played in South Africa." Given that 80s punks, The Genuines, came up with a Goema that sounds and feels like rock, it would appear that the style has long amounted to more than just the minstrel tradition it’s associated with. If the world's biggest, online encyclopaedia can't tell us what Goema is today, maybe the film makers can?

"Goema is what happens when the parallel lines of South African cultures intercept,” says Calum MacNaughton. He, Angela Ramirez and Sarah Gouveia went on a journey of discovery together, and they took their camera with them. “Carnival culture is the Goema blueprint and Cape Jazz is its link to modern sound. We are interested in practitioners who are reimagining Goema for the 21st century,” he says of the documentary in the making.

So Goema, then, is the groove at the heart of Cape Town’s carnival culture, a hybrid sound that is the love child of our past wearing a new look in the present. In its seams, cuffs and collar are subtle square-dance tunes Oom Piet sometimes whistles absentmindedly, the big banging drums down Darling Street at festival time and even symphonic orchestras.

Symphonic orchestras?  I beg your pardon?

This week, Goema is letting itself be felt through the sonic fabric of the city and giving you a chance and listen and make up your own mind. As a demonstration of its diversity, history and mystery, Mac Mackenzie (a Cape Town music legend and founding member of The Genuines and The Goema Captains) is hosting 'Goema Symphony No. 1.'

The press release is pointed. "McKenzie has always pushed the boundaries of Goema. During the 80s, he injected defiance into the idiom with The Geniunes, creating lightning-speed Rock arrangements and the resistance anthem “Struggle.” In 2002, Mac guided Goema into a more refined arena with The Goema Captains of Cape Town, cloaking the Cape vibe in Cool Jazz. Now Mac’s back with an orchestra to boot! Steering Goema into Classical territory, Mac McKenzie has assembled The Cape Town Goema Orchestra to showcase a composition entitled "Goema Symphony No. 1."

“Goema Symphony No. 1." will be performed

at SABC Studios Auditorium

on Saturday 28 August  2010

at 20:00.

Words : Jess Henson

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