Joe Petersen Drums to the Rhythms of Cape Town

No visit to Greenmarket Square is complete without meeting the legendary African drummer, Joe Petersen


“The only thing I know is playing music. You can be depressed, and if you put music on, it changes your whole mindset. You can be sad, and then come home and put on Bob Marley, The Beatles, whatever, it changes everything.” – Joe Petersen.

He was born as Mohammed Amien Petersen, but this humble and friendly music man would prefer it if you called him by the name everyone knows him by – Joe, from the Jimi Hendrix song Hey Joe, which is covered by Joe and his band (the Ganga Muffins) in the first track on their CD – The Streets of Cape Town.

Joe both plays music and records albums with fellow musicians that have come into his life over the years – together they are known as Joe and the Ganga Muffins.

They have brought out a number of albums – the latest one is The Streets of Cape Town, and is dedicated to Joe’s two-year old grandson Aden.

“Aden brings music to my soul. He’s gonna be like me one day – music-crazy! You can see he’s already got rhythm, and he’s only two-and-a-half years old!”

“I sing quite a lot on our new album. I’m more of an entertainer than a musician. I love entertaining people because it makes them happy. Whenever I play, people leave themselves and their environments and they connect to me. When I’m playing I’m very happy – so that’s what makes my music happy,” he says.

“All the songs on the album are very happy songs. They make you think about your reality, and they make you think about your life,” Joe says. The songs range from reggae to jazz to Kaapse Klopse. Cape Town Style! Joe Style!

Spend a few minutes in conversation with this 56-year-old father of two, or better yet, listen to him beating out some heartfelt rhythms on his djembe drums, and you’ll quickly see why Joe has attained legendary status playing as a as a street performer in Cape Town’s streets for over 20 years.

Almost every day you can find Joe and his guitarists – Lungile and Dave – making music that makes people feel happy. Just take a stroll around Greenmarket Square (or Church St. or the Waterfront) on a sunny Cape Town morning or afternoon and you are almost guaranteed to come across them – just listen for the beats!

Joe started playing drums on tins in the houses and backyards of Diep River, his home suburb. He moved to Manenberg after his family was evicted from Diep River by the apartheid-era authorities, and it was there that he fell in love with music.

“The real music comes from Manenberg. The music I play now is from Manenberg. I became a man in Manenberg,” he says.

“I got my first drum when I was 26. I used to play in many bands when I was 18 or 19 – I used to play gigs on farms and at festivals. My biggest band was called the Roots Reggae Band – they were very big in Cape Town.

Joe recalls his most memorable gig as being in Upington in the 90’s, when he played for Nelson Mandela at a conference. He had met Mandela years before while imprisoned on Robben Island (also for fighting the apartheid struggle). “He remembered me straight away. He’s like a friend. He pays attention to you,” Joe says.

Why does Joe love Cape Town? “It’s a beautiful city, and I’ve met half of the world in Cape Town. I enjoy playing for tourists in this city’s guest houses, restaurants and backpackers. Every year people come looking for me,” he smiles.

Joe is planning on opening a drumming school for children in Mitchell’s Plain. “I try to teach them in the park, but I only have two drums. It would be great if businesses and people could sponsor instruments. To sponsor Joe or buy his CDs, call him on +27(0)78 624 9678.

“Live long, live strong, live life to the full.” – Joe Petersen

You can listen right now to The Best of Joe and the Ganga Muffins – the Streets of Cape Town in our JukeBox.

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