The idea may sound suspiciously “educational”, and it’s true that the material between musical explosions is presented simply by the two women of the group, Zenobia Kloppers and Carmen Maarman. But the story they have to tell is so far from a Western idea of African cliché, the music so rhythmic and the musicians so accomplished and energetic that every last fact slips down painlessly.
The four words which make up the title encapsulate the history of South African Cape Coloured music. The Portuguese rounded the Cape en route to the East in search of costly spices. A hundred years later the Dutch followed, but established a place for recuperation - scurvy was rife - on the African coast and brought slaves to serve them from Indonesia, Madagascar, India, Ceylon and Mozambique. Then came the Brits, abolishing slavery, and American entertainers, including – improbably - white minstrels in black-face make-up. All these influences found their way into the mix that is the music of the descendants of those slaves.
Some of the early songs spoke in code of illicit sexual relations between slaves and masters: “aunt” meant a willing farmer’s wife, “flower” an available owner’s daughter, while jackal “never just meant jackal”. Whereas American slaves invented the Blues, their South African counterparts sang jolly songs on their one day out of the year, the picnic.
Ghoema means a drum made from a small barrel with an animal skin stretched over one end. There’s some vigorous drumming during the show both in the band (made up of guitars, a banjo and accordion as well as an array of drums) and among the singers. Both Kloppers and Maarman have excellent voices and an easy way of addressing the audience.
They’re joined by three male performers - Jody Abrahams, Loukmaan Adams and Munthir Dullisear - with a little help from drummer Danny Butler in fine voice, all under the guidance of music director Taliep Petersen. They are equally engaging and sometimes very funny. Look out for the “choir” partly consisting of animated dummies and the mocked-up American minstrels with their exaggerated white-painted mouths.
Under the direction of David Kramer (who also writes), the company seem scarcely to draw breath between songs. There is no plot, merely a chronology, but there are moments of emotion as the sad-happy history of the Cape unfolds.
- Heather Neill