Reshaping Remembrance ~ Boeremusiek

In the twenties and thirties traditional boeremusiek was played widely throughout South Africa. Many evenings the sounds filled houses and public places, sounded out over our land and gladdened the hearts of Boer people.[i]

1.
On 18 January 2001, I am sitting in the lounge of Professor Stanley Glasser in his house in London. Glasser is the retired Head of Goldsmiths College, University of London, and an expatriate South African. We talk about South African composition, and the imperative for South African composers not to compose European music for South Africa, but rather South African music in which Europe could be interested because it is South African. Glasser advances the notion of a kind of composition engagée. He asks where the desire is to hear the sounds of the land, where the intimate engagement with the music of the people is to be found. And then he says:
Go to a Vastrap and see what you can do with it. Go to a Vastrap evening in Nelspruit or wherever. And see what it means, the dancing, the life, it’s all part of the music … I’m talking about if there’s a dance in Nelspruit on a Saturday night and all the farmers are coming in and the locals are coming in and there is a boereorkes. Where are you guys … do you ever roll up to that sort of thing? No. It’s the composer who has got to do that. It’s all very well to take poems by Van Wyk Louw or Leipoldt and set them. You could set it twelve tone, whole tone, keys. Whatever you like. It doesn’t matter what you use, but it’s the feeling you have that’s got to be very attached and respectful to the community as opposed to the university, I may put it that way. I used to live in Bethel, going to a dance in the local hall, with a Boereorkes playing. It was so lively and everybody was in a good mood and you’d see African children looking through the window and everybody was enjoying it in their own way.[ii]

‘You guys’. The musicologists. The academics, including and especially Afrikaners, in the suburbs and the universities. The only paper on boeremusiek at a local academic conference for music researchers ever heard by the present writer, was in Pretoria in 2002. The secretary of the local boeremusiek club addressed delegates at the invitation of Professor Chris Walton, a born Englishman who had recently arrived from Zurich to take up the Headship of the Department of Music at the University of Pretoria. Walton found boeremusiek fascinating, partly because of the significant similarities between the local sound and the folk music equivalent in Switzerland. It was a memorable occasion, not only because the paper was so interesting and the presenter very knowledgeable, but also because of the reactions of the small audience consisting of academics and music students. As the presenter demonstrated, on one of the concertinas he had brought with him, a retired English-speaking professor from the University of the Witwatersrand started moving to music, looked merrily to her neighbour and asked: ‘Where are the days?’ If the music had continued for a little while, I am convinced that she would have started to dance. The Afrikaans students and academics cringed in their seats in the lecture room. Boeremusiek is not Culture (with a capital ’C’). It is a little low, a little feeble, a little simple, a little direct, a little too close to our uncultivated needs and past.

It is therefore hardly surprising that there are no entries on boeremusiek in Jacques Malan’s South African Music Encyclopaedia. There is no reference to boeremusiek in Jan Bouws’s Komponiste van Suid-Afrika [Composers of South Africa] (1971), Bouws’s Die Musieklewe van Kaapstad 1800-1850 en sy verhouding tot die musiekkultuur van Wes-Europa [The Musical Life of Cape Town 1800-1850 and its relationship to the musical culture of Western Europe] (1966), Peter Klatzow’s Composers in South Africa Today, or in any of the twenty-five editions of the South African Journal of Musicology (SAMUS), or any of the congress proceedings of the then South African Musicological Society or the Ethnomusicology Symposium. Nothing either in Ars Nova, Muziki, The Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa or Musicus. The ‘sounds that filled houses and public places’ in the twenties and thirties clearly did not reach universities, at least not in the form of published research, research papers or documents. Academically institutionalized musicians and researchers never made this ‘place’ their own. The boeremusiek that ‘gladdened the hearts of Boer people’ is not the music of the Afrikaner intelligentsia.[iii] Read more

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share

Reshaping Remembrance ~ Die Stem

1.[i]
Music is high or low. It can ascend or descend (like mountains and valleys) with an ascending run or descending scale. It is here, close to home (tonic), or there, close to relatives (relative or parallel minor/major, perhaps dominant or subdominant keys). Sometimes it moves, as is envisioned in Schoenberg’s idea of tonality, to far-off reaches of larger tonal geographies, to the furthest of such places before it returns (if it returns at all) to the known world of the tonic. Music as a kind of res extensa.[ii] Orchestration could be airy and spacious in the hands of Webern, or constructivist and muscular when done by Brahms. Music creates horizontal contours and arches through the distances between notes (intervals). These distances are determined during performance by controlling the time-space separating the end of one tone and the beginning of the next (articulation). Music is architecturally monumental in form, like a Beethoven symphony, or it is in expression and form as intimate as the salon.

We cannot approach music in language without the metaphors of place and space. Individual combinations of tones (musical ‘works’) constitute designated spaces. When these spaces become known after frequent visits, they become inhabited by cultural memory. The evocative nature of such spaces is inherent to the fact that the sentiment (emotional and/or cultural) is felt precisely, but cannot be expressed accurately in language. It is a language-resistant space. To consider Die Stem as collective memory depends on this metaphorical understanding of music in general, and of a specific work in particular. This is not a perspective that demands clarification of the song’s history. C.J. Langenhoven’s poem is only the foundation of this place. M.L. de Villiers’s melody is only the outer walls thereof and Hubert du Plessis’s official orchestration only the interior decorating.[iii]

Questions on memory and remembering and of how these things relate to this particular text, are not questions about historiography. The imagination in search of memory has to find more poetic avenues to knowledge.

Figure 19.1 David Goldblatt’s photograph with the description ‘Die Heldeakker, The Heroes’ Acre: cemetery for White members of the security forces killed in “The Total Onslaught”, Ventersdorp, Transvaal, 1 November 1986’. [iv]

2.
The closing phrase of Die Stem is literally displayed ‘triumphantly’ (the character indication in the music) as meaning-giving banner over this demarcated space. It lends definition to the space of the military cemetery. Does the reader hear it? The two security force members buried there are lifted up by the contour of the melody: B flat-A flat-G-B flat-C-D-E flat. The dotted rhythmical introduction to the phrase, undergirded by the secondary dominant harmony, assuages doubt, presses forward, aims towards the solution at the end of the phrase. The end is comforting as an end. It brings us home. Goldblatt’s photograph dates from 1986. It is understandable if one hears Die Stem in this time as a military song; the contours and rhythms and harmonies sound like bulwarks against the enemy, as encouragements to those who would doubt the final victory. However, for André P. Brink, Die Stem is also the song of torture in the seventies:
every time the rebel leader is arrested, and tortured, and killed, leading to new protest, and to new martyrs; this goes on until a deadly silence remains, lasting an agonising eternity, a silence out of which, almost inaudible at first, the national anthem rises while a group of folk dancers in white masks begin to dance on the bodies of the martyrs.[v]

It is also this ‘Stem’ that, at the end of J.M. Coetzee’s Age of iron, provides the sound track to the author’s nightmarish vision of hell. ‘I am afraid’, says the dying Mrs Curran, ‘of going to hell and having to listen to Die stem (sic) for all eternity’.[vi] Die Stem that accompanies the coffin of Milla Redelinghuys into her grave at the end of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat has a different tenor. When the Grootmoedersdrift farm is taken into possession by the coloured woman, Agaat, who was formed by the white woman who loved and rejected her, it is Die Stem that articulates ambiguously change and continuity:
Gaat making people by the graveside sing the third verse of Die Stem: … When the wedding bells are chiming, Or when those we love depart. And then all eyes on me for: … Thou dost know us for thy children …We are thine, and we shall stand, Be it life or death to answer Thy call, beloved land! Wake up and smell the red-bait, as Pa would have said. Poor Pa with his ill-judged exclamations. Did at least make a note for my article on nationalism and music. Thys’s body language! The shoulders thrust back militaristically, the eyes cast up grimly, old Beatrice peering at the horizon. The labourers, men and women, sang it like a hymn, eyes rolled back in the head.

Word-perfect beginning to end. Trust Agaat. She would have no truck with the new anthem.[vii]

But how did historical reception develop the fascistic timbre that characterized performances and receptions of Die Stem in the 1980s, so apparent in the quotation above? Surely there was a time when Die Stem was a freedom song for Afrikaners, an alternative text for collective musical mobilization to God Save The Queen. This essay wants to connect the cited examples of fiction-mediated memories of Die Stem to the historical process represented in FAK (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, directly translated as Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies) archival documents from the 1950s.
Read more

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share

Reshaping Remembrance ~ ‘In Ferocious Anger I Bit The Hand That Controls’ – The Rise Of Afrikaans Punk Rock Music

On a night in 2006, a Cape Town’s night club, its floor littered with cigarette butts,  plays host to an Afrikaner (sub)cultural gathering. Guys with seventies’ glam rock hairstyles, wearing old school uniform-like blazers decorated with a collection of pins and buttons and teamed up with tight jeans, sneakers and loose shoelaces keep one eagerly awaiting eye on the set stage and another on the short skirted girls. Before taking to the stage, the band, Fokofpolisiekar, entices the audience with the projection of their latest music video for the acoustic version of their debut hit single released two years before and entitled ‘Hemel op die platteland’.
In tune with the melancholy sound of an acoustic guitar, the music video kicks off with the winding of an old film reel revealing nostalgic stock footage of a long gone era. Well-known images make the audience feel a sense of estrangement by means of ironic disillusionment: the sun is setting in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville. Seemingly bored, the five members of Fokofpolisiekar hang around the Afrikaans Language Monument. Against the backdrop of a blue-grey sky, the well-known image of a Dutch Reformed church tower flashes in blinding sunlight. Smiling white children play next to swimming pools in the backyards of well-to-do suburbs and on white beaches while the voice of the lead singer asks:
can you tighten my bolts for me? / can you find my marbles for me? / can you stick your idea of normal up your ass? / can you spell apathy? can someone maybe phone a god / and tell him we don’t need him anymore / can you spell apathy? (kan jy my skroewe vir my vasdraai? / kan jy my albasters vir my vind? / kan jy jou idee van normaal by jou gat opdruk? / kan jy apatie spel? kan iemand dalk ’n god bel / en vir hom sê ons het hom nie meer nodig nie / kan jy apatie spel?)

And whilst the home video footage of a family eating supper in a green acred backyard is sharply contrasted with images of broken garden chairs in an otherwise empty run-down backyard, the theme of the song resonates ironically in the chorus: ‘it’s heaven on the platteland’ (‘dis hemel op die platteland’). On the dirty floor of the night club, a young white Afrikaans guy kills his Malboro cigarette and takes a sip of his lukewarm Black Label beer, watching more video images of morally grounded suburb, school and church and relates to the angry words of the vocalist:
‘regulate me […] place me in a box and mark it safe / then send me to where all the boxes/idiots go / send me to heaven I think it’s on the platteland’  (‘reguleer my, roetineer my / plaas my in ’n boks en merk dit veilig / stuur my dan waarheen al die dose gaan / stuur my hemel toe ek dink dis in die platteland / dis hemel op die platteland’).

As the video draws to a close, the young man sees the ironic use of the partly exposed motto engraved on the path to the Language Monument: ‘This is us’.  He has never visited the Language Monument, but he agrees with what he just saw and because he feels as though he just paged through old photo albums (only to come to the disillusioned conclusion that everything has been all too burlesque) he puts his hands in the air when the band takes to the stage with the lead singer commanding:
‘Lift your hands to the burlesque […] We want the attention / of the brainless crowd / We want the famine the urgent lack of energy / We are in search of the search for something / We are empty, because we want to be’ (‘Rys jou hande vir die klug […] Ons soek die aandag / van die breinlose gehoor / Ons soek die hongersnood die dringende gebrek aan energie / Ons is op soek na die soeke na iets / Ons is leeg, want ons wil wees’. Read more

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share

Some Notes On Citizenship, Civil Society And Social Movements

Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937 Ills.: Ingrid Bouws

Over the past decades, notions of citizenship and civil society have come to occupy a prominent place in Latin American political discourse. All kinds of activities have been attributed to civil society, including preventing a military solution to the Chiapas conflict in 1994. We also hear a great deal about “organized civil society,” “social movements of civil society” and “global civil society,” terms that have entered everyday political discourse and become incorporated into common sense, though this does not mean that everyone understands the same message when using these terms. Quite to the contrary, incorporation into common language may well be facilitated by a lack of specificity. Such fluidity suggests, above all, that citizenship and civil society are contested categories subject to “wars of interpretation” (Slater, 1998:385). This approach to such questions implies admitting that we cannot know exactly what citizenship and civil society “are” and recognizing that they are notions forged through political discourse and practice.

There is no such thing as society, there are individual men and women. — Margaret Thatcher, 19931

In this essay, I will outline some of the pathways the notion of citizenship has taken and how it has been reconfigured over the course of time. Taking Europe and Latin America as our main references, this discussion will show that what has been considered the foundation of citizenship has been conceptualized and practiced in distinct ways at different times and in different places. It will also discern how citizenship and civil society are mutually implicated social constructs. I will argue that in a first moment, civil rights were considered the primary foundation of citizenship and of the autonomous participation of the citizen in society. However, the conflicts generated by the social structure of 19th-century capitalist society contributed to the consolidation of social rights as a new basis for citizenship. In Latin America, in contrast, the incorporation of the population followed an itinerary distinct from that of Europe, which reveals specific forms of inclusion and exclusion. Finally, societal and economic changes in recent decades have given rise to new imageries of citizenship, which often center on consumer sovereignty as its vital element, a fact that has important implications for what we call civil society. Taking the example of Brazil, I will show that such views are not uncontested, but that they are challenged by a political imagery premised on the idea that citizenship itself can be a strategy employed in the search for a more inclusive and civil society. This theme is certainly ample, and I do not pretend to examine it exhaustively, but only to offer some food for thought. As noted, I consider citizenship and civil society to be interrelated notions and thus seek to put a certain distance between my perspective and views of civil society currently in vogue, which tend to define it as a space located somewhere beyond the market and the state. Instead, I seek to highlight the ways in which the market, the state and civil society all intersect in an effort to construct something that we might call a “political economy of citizenship.”
Read more

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share

The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks ~ Self Portrait, ca.1948

Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life. In addition, Parks was also a celebrated composer, author, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the most prominent people of his era – from politicians and artists to celebrities and athletes.

Born into poverty and segregation in Kansas in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers published in a magazine. After buying a camera at a pawnshop, he taught himself how to use it and despite his lack of professional training, he found employment with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was then chronicling the nation’s social conditions. Parks quickly developed a style that would make him one of the most celebrated photographers of his age, allowing him to break the color line in professional photography while creating remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of racism.

Go to: http://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/artist

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share

Great Lakes Of Africa ~ From Problems To Solutions

“People are the problem, People are the solution” the keynote speaker’s concluding words at the first Great Lakes of Africa Conference held in Uganda in May 2017, generated a flurry of nods and agreements. Entebbe hosted over three hundred delegates at the shores of Lake Victoria, to discuss sustainable solutions for the pressing problems of the African Great Lakes. Spanning across 11 countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia), the African Great Lakes region is large and indispensable as it provides livelihoods to millions. It was interesting to see a variety of stakeholders, including government leaders, regional and basin authorities, inter-governmental organizations, development and funding agencies, non-governmental organizations, community groups and the private sector come together to discuss challenges and solutions for this special region. Presentations made by delegates resounded the problems of pollution, over extraction of natural resources, pressure on natural resources, changes in land use and need for further research in many areas. For me, it echoed some of my thoughts on what I have observed in the Lake Chilwa Basin in southern Malawi. Lake Chilwa, although a smaller lake compared to the giants such as Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, is very important for the millions that live in its basin. And indeed, I have also seen in the Lake Chilwa Basin that people are the cause of its problems and certainly, they are the solution too.

Why people are the problem comes to light when one looks at anthropogenic causes of Lake Basin changes. They include watershed deforestation causing sedimentation in lakes, over abstraction of water for irrigation leading to lowered water levels of lakes, poor solid and sewage waste management leading to eutrophication, use of toxic chemical for agriculture in lake basins and competing land uses leading to reduced land for conservation. Several examples were presented including the case of Kenya’s Lake Turkana which is renowned as the world’s largest desert lake. Hydropower development and large-scale irrigation plantations have depleted river inflow into the lake. As a result, the lake level has already fallen two metres, and the local fishing industry has taken a toll. It was chilling to hear at the conference that this lake has been likened to “an African Aral Sea in the making”. Nearby, at Lake Victoria, which employs over 1 million people, over the years, impacts of eutrophication and climate change, are threatening its critical ecosystem services. While, Lake Tanganyika has experienced various ecological changes including lake warming and heavy pressure on various fisheries resources. Lake Malawi is also no exception, where degraded habitats, declining fish stocks and agriculture runoff into the lake all threaten livelihoods of those depending on this lake. Almost all presenters accepted that rapid population growth in the region puts tremendous pressure on the natural resources in the ecosystems. Some called for an integrated approach, where women’s needs especially that of family planning should be considered and population numbers managed. Read more

image_pdfimage_print
Bookmark and Share
  • About

    Rozenberg Quarterly aims to be a platform for academics, scientists, journalists, authors and artists, in order to offer background information and scholarly reflections that contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue in a seemingly divided world. By offering this platform, the Quarterly wants to be part of the public debate because we believe mutual understanding and the acceptance of diversity are vital conditions for universal progress. Read more...
  • Support

    Rozenberg Quarterly does not receive subsidies or grants of any kind, which is why your financial support in maintaining, expanding and keeping the site running is always welcome. You may donate any amount you wish and all donations go toward maintaining and expanding this website.

    10 euro donation:

    20 euro donation:

    Or donate any amount you like:

    Or:
    ABN AMRO Bank
    Rozenberg Publishers
    IBAN NL65 ABNA 0566 4783 23
    BIC ABNANL2A
    reference: Rozenberg Quarterly

    If you have any questions or would like more information, please see our About page or contact us: info@rozenbergquarterly.com
  • Like us on Facebook

  • Follow us on Twitter

  • Archives