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Ghoema – Profoundly South African

Ghoema – Profoundly South African

This Heritage Month, we pay tribute to a musical genre that has its roots firmly planted in the Mother City and one that plays an important role in South Africa’s cultural heritage.

Many South Africans will be familiar with the annual Cape Town Carnival that the ghoema (or goema) hand drum is so closely associated with. The merry annual procession, also known as the Minstrel Festival takes place over New Year when thousands of ‘Kaapse Klopse’ (Cape troupes) dressed in flamboyant costumes with often painted faces parade through the streets of Cape Town singing, dancing, and playing music.

A Cape minstrel performance during the annual Cape Town carnival

What is Ghoema?

The ghomma or ghoema drum, made from a small wooden wine barrel with an animal skin stretched over one open end is a portable percussion instrument originally created by early slaves in the Cape during the early 1900s. The origins of the word is unknown, but it has been suggested that it may have come from the word ‘ngoma’, the Swahili word for drum.

The hybrid musical genre of ghoema music is described by an unknown author as a combination of “a pinch of Khoi-San lament, a dash of Malay spice, a measure of European orchestral, a splash of Xhosa spiritual, the clash of marching bands, the pizzazz of the Klopse, a driving primal beat and lots of humour and musical virtuosity”. What it also does is epitomise the eclectic and cross-cultural vibey beat that is the Cape Town Carnival.

A Brief History of the Cape Town Carnival

Cape Town Carnival A.K.A

The Cape Town Carnival as it is officially known goes by a myriad of other names:

  • Cape Town Minstrel Carnival
  • The New Year Carnival
  • Coon Carnival (believed to be the preferred name to its performers despite the negative connotation)
  • Kaapse Klopse
  • Cape Minstrels
  • The Minstrel Festival
  • Second New Year Carnival/Tweede Nuwe Jaar
  • Tweede Nuwe Jaar Minstrel Parade

Over the years since their inception, they have become an essential part of Cape Town’s culture and an important part of South African history and cultural heritage.

Ghoema Music

The style of music played by the Cape minstrels has come a long way. No longer just street music played at festivals once a year, it is a fully-fledged genre in its own right and has moved up the ranks into an orchestral symphony.

In 2010, the pioneer of ghoema Gerald Samuel "Mac" McKenzie formed the Cape Town Goema Orchestra, a “classical ensemble that grooves”. Their repertoire of instruments includes violins, cellos, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, flutes, to name a few. “Goema Symphony No. 1” introduced a bold, new vision for classical music in South Africa.

Celebrate a piece of South African Heritage

If you’re new ghoema, want to experience a taste of the merry music, or just feel like getting into a happy mood, we invite you to sing and dance along to the 2020 theme song:

Wit man, swart man, don’t be skaam
Want die coloured in satin bring die nasie saam
Jirre, die straat is vol 
Everyone is happy, is n lekker jol. 
Uniting the nation with music and colour 
No matter your race I’m still your brother 

Full lyrics here >

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