Home to the Story of South African Jazz
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
return to index

Goema Captains of Cape Town

Interview with Mac Mckenzie, Hilton Schilder, Alex Van Heerden, Kurt, Hamma conducted by Evan Milton, Marvel Bar Long Street, July 2002

Mac, how are you going to bring everything together with the hip hop element?

Fortunately for me I didn't have to formulate it. I came into the studio one day for and a half years ago and I saw Ready D sitting and playing imaginary turntables while listening to a goema track I was mixing. I said what are you doing, he said he wants to do this so badly. And then I brought him into the rehearsals and that time I was playing with Alex, Ezra and that was like the jazz guys playing some goema music. And the turntablist was a huge success. It was music. He was bringing in sounds and chords and stuff like that. Ready D just plucked it in top of that sound and it made a lot of sense. We got a lot of gigs. We played jazz festivals and that is where I met up with the rest of the BVK guys. Mr Fat was incredible. For this gig I didn't have much time and space to get everybody but I needed a turntablist. I am pleased about the electronic element and that Ready D hasn't walked away with everything on his own. He has actually left little eggs and pockets. Just as we make sure as composers that other people also know how we approach composing. Composers are the main force of any music in the world because if you can't compose it you can't play it. We bring to the composers of tomorrow and the composers of today who need guidance. We bring them our theology and it is in that view that I can accommodate all these sounds. I am not uncomfortable with anything, thanks to Ready D and I am very glad that Hamma has come along.

How Hilton is jazz coming in?

I don't play trad jazz. I come from a family that is known for jazz. I wouldn't call myself a jazz musician. That would be putting myself in a box. A world musician, incorporating all styles, incorporating all fields, all instruments. I understand jazz. I didn't study music, I don't read. I taught myself to do all those things. I won't be coming from a traditional jazz kind of vibe; more an open head. I think that is what jazz means, free. There are too many jazz musicians who are put into a box. For instance Abdullah, they call him a jazz musician. He doesn't regard himself as a jazz musician but rather a musician presenting Cape Jazz for want of a better word, Cape music. People use the term jazz freely, you know you get the P4 jazz, you get different types of jazz. It is goema, it has evolved.

Hilton, how is world music incorporated?

With a bow. I play the Tambura as well, which is an Egyptian tabla. I will be incorporating that as well with the gummy players. In that sense it is kind of a world thing. It hasn't got a jazz structure, it has got layers.

How do you feel about turntablism Hamma?

I have always liked DJ-ing, but I could never afford to do it because it was too expensive a trade. I developed that interest when I was really young so there was no way I could get money for turntables or even collecting records. I always like Ready D's style of DJ-ing, but it was never my style. It is not a style I would adopt. I have always liked the European style of DJ-ing, more slower, more composed, just simpler. My style is basic, when I scratch and perform, I like people to see the basic elements, like how to put a scratch pattern together, so I always break all my scratches down. It is more lose. It is a style people can get into easily. It is easy listening. It is not really like a wild style type scratching. I like simple things. Simple music, simple beats, anything with space. Any music that is too full I don't really get into it if there is too much stuff happening. I always like jazz because it is like the same thing as just DJ's free-styling. Everybody is doing their own thing but somehow it all comes together. I am not a jazz head to put it like that, but I could always listen to it and I can always enjoy it.

Alex Van Heerden, how did you hook up with the various musicians?

I have been playing with these guys for a very long time. Mac and Hilton for a couple of years now. And they always told me to be true to yourself and play what you are and what feels sincere. I remember Mac telling me that years ago and Hilton also. It is very much about playing what is you. That is why I fit in, we have a mutual understanding of what we are and expressing ourselves.

We are people who are from here. We can't deny that. We grew up with a language in our head and a sound in our head and an environment. Each person has their own unique environment but more or less we share common things. We have a music which is ours… What I learnt from Hilton and Mac is they play a lot of different kinds of music but they speak a lot about something called goema, which is the carnival music of Cape Town. I started playing that music with them and then I realised that I need to start looking at what I am. I am an Afrikaans speaking person and as Afrikaaners we have a kind of music built around a rhythm called vastrap. I started hearing goema music as being a very fast vastrap, because it is a carnival music. And then I realised that this music is linked to the language Afrikaans. And it has had a bad stigma attached to it because of the fuck up that we had and the split in the Afrikaans speaking people because they are actually one people. But something went wrong, so I started getting into the rhythm that reflects the language.

Each language on this planet has a rhythm that goes with it. The rhythm of Afrikaans is vastrap or goema depending on how fast you speak it. In the Cape they speak Afrikaans fast and that is why it sounds fast, it is the goema beat. Each language has its own rhythm. The Cuban Spanish play salsa. I am an accordionist as well and a trumpet player so that I can incorporate the whole sound and that is how I fit in because I am this and so are these people. We are all this. There is no possibility of us not fitting together.

Mac says,

The reason why we are fortunate enough to join up now is because back then when I was struggling because I have been a composer since I can remember but what made we do what I did, because I did weird things is I was always looking for resonating instances. And when myself and Hilton met up, we were always two guys doing our own thing because he could understand what I was talking about. By the time we formed this band ‘The Genuines,' the one thing that came out in me was rock music in its deviance; that appealed to me. I could easily write rock songs and carry them over to the audiences. Also at the time there was need for that with the apartheid era having to be dismantled and we came across with this hard rock and obviously we cornered the rock market with all its popularity and viability and financial logic. That is why we became famous because we played rock music, not because we played goema music, not because we played well or that we were tall or thin or short or fat. We got into that market and we were the best rock band immediately and for the two of us to bring it across, that is when myself and Hilton realised we are very similar. And we were always looking for similar people along the way and that is why I know as we sit here, Hamma, Kurt and Alex there is a similarity between these people that is going to pervade right through our lives.

Hilton says.

Playing rock that time, we did the goema very very fast; so fast that the punks liked it. It was the new kind of punk. It is a kind of a punk if you check it out. The guys there that associated with the goema and that, the so called jail culture, the gangsterism and all that which is not what we are about, you know guys wearing their pants here, their bums hanging out, it is punk.

Mac says.

The carnival music was about people being set free from slavery and painting themselves up and then carrying on like the master wouldn't have them carry on, like they were freed. That still happens in the goema troops today. I have actually gone and joined a nag-team , last year and this year just so I can connect with what I grew up with. I grew up with all those things. My father was moss a goema captain. When Hilton talks about the gangster or jail culture, what he is actually trying to say is, it is the slaves being freed. They behave extrovertly, drinking too much and rolling around in the streets and walking on the pavement where they couldn't walk, because they were freed on that day. That is the energy of the goema in Cape Town.

Hilton says.

Also Mac, the thing with the painting and that. When the guys came out of the chains to entertain people, people weren't allowed to see their faces. They had to put this paint on. And then take the paint off and back into the chains and back to wherever they were incarcerated.

Kurt how do you feel connecting with all this heritage and the way that is coming out in the music?

All the youth are looking for culture nowadays. They are going to all these Eurocentric things, these name brands, labels and stuff. People see an image and try and incorporate who they are into the image. They are robbing themselves of what they actually have. Basically all the heritage is in the past, in the background. It is something real. I like to attach myself to a good cause.

Hamma says.

People always connect to an idea. Whatever idea is cool and if other people relate to that idea they connect to the idea. Everything that is around in the area attaches itself to it. The same with hip hop. Hip hop was more an idea than anything else. It was not the music or the art or anything like that. It has all been around before hip hop. The same with jazz. The instruments and everything has been around before jazz came about. What brought jazz to life was the idea and people started connecting with it. The thing is even though we are all from different musical backgrounds, the one idea that connects us is the idea to be yourself and bring yourself to the party. So, I am cool with anything that allows people to be themselves. Other than that I don't really care what they listen to.

Mac says.

I have always heard Hamma talk like that. One thing about the BVK lighties is they are very cool. I would just like to mention something Mr Fat did. Remember that time he went up to Oudsthoorn? Mr Fat sat down and he said to the broertjies, ‘Afrikaans is my moeder taal'. Like something heavy you know. That is putting a big rock into the middle of the pool and I identified immediately with him. He said, ‘because you are not speaking Afrikaans, you are speaking a stagnant Flemish dialect'. Afrikaans is a living language. That is why I am happy to find people like Kurt now. It is about bringing yourself to the party.

Alex says.

Mac has just said it clearly. The danger is there are powers at play out there: especially America with this cultural imperialism, wants us to forget any links to any other culture besides theirs that we might have.

It is so obvious to me. To be able to understand and speak a language that comes from a place is the most beautiful thing possible because it places you in your environment. Afrikaans is the language of the entire Cape. It developed in Cape Town and the surrounding areas, in all its dialects. This whole Boere Afrikaans thing is a stagnation and a fear and that is why they are holding onto it. They are trying to speak what is their kind of Dutch. But in reality, we need to rewrite the history of what really happened here.

If you go into any poor white home, Afrikaans speaking, you see they eat the same food as an average coloured home, and they have the same kind of rhythms in the music. There are some differences but essentially at some point the cultures were the same. That is what interests me. We need to have a renaissance where people can become proud of what they are. And that will not only involve the oppressed Afrikaans people becoming aware that they have no need to feel that there is anything wrong with their culture but also the Afrikaans people that have been on top all the time must realise that their culture is a petty bourgeois lie. They were sold by the purist ideals that came after the Anglo Boer war; that they have to try and be European. Fuck all of that actually and let's not talk about this shit anymore. It has actually got nothing to do with music.

There is a music here. The music is going to make us realise that all the other stuff we are talking about us a load of shit. There is a rhythm here that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world and it is beautiful and it is sexy and it is warrrm!

Hilton how much does the music have to do with an identity?

It is a matter of speaking the same language or a similar language. We come from different backgrounds yet we all speak the same language, if we have to communicate in jazz or whether we have to communicate in goema you will find it all boils down to one thing; that is music we like to play. Music we enjoy playing. And music that we are not trying to force down anyone's throat with vengeance. You can go anywhere in the world and play together. You don't even have to speak the same language but you can play together. I find goema is a very accessible rhythm. I did workshops in Denmark and the students there, really hectic students playing serious stuff; in three of four days they could learn a couple of goema tunes with me and at the end of the week perform it and record an album out of it. It is quite a universal language. Same as jazz is. You can go anywhere, the far corners of the earth. There are such a lot of guys who have listened to a bass player like Jaco Pastorius. You can find a guy from the Ivory Coast playing like Jaco Pastorius. It is a language that he has picked up and spoken. To me most of the music that we play comes from Africa. It doesn't matter what it is, it has got its roots here in Africa because it has been proved that the oldest man comes from here or woman for that matter. Basically all music forms are related in some way, no matter where they are because it has been taken to all corners of the earth.

Mac says,

We are busy putting up the cornerstone for goema as it were. In Brazil, everybody plays Brazilian music. In Cuba everybody plays Cuban music. It doesn't matter what colour they are, where their ancestors come from. That is going to happen here and it is happening. We are the small stream trickling and it is going to come flooding one day. Where the turntablist is playing goema, the guy with a jazz thing, a rock thing, an Afrikaans thing, everybody is eventually going to be a goema musician. If you talk about resonation with other people, I saw it in Germany. I don't know if you remember that night we came to play in Germany, it was winter, the snow was thick and we came into this small place called Apeldoorn. We came into the place and there was nobody to be seen because it was snowing and we felt really shit, we felt we were going to bomb. There were going to be two people in the place in the South of Germany. It was myself and you (Hilton) and Ian Herman and Gerard. And we thought we were going to die and play to an empty hall. And in come the German people. It was Oupa, Ouma, little kids and some teenagers. But we had this whole family. All the people of the place. And the hall was full. We didn't know where to start and we pedalled a little bit and then we said, ‘let's play goema.' It is the end of the world. And they all danced whole night. And we sang a bit. I can tell you a lot of beautiful things that happened to me because of playing goema.

One night I came to this place called the Republic of Hout Bay. The band that played before us was called Smoking Brass. They were playing reggae and they were popular and they had all their fans there. My father was alive. My father was playing with us. After they finished their set there was nothing we could do to follow. We played a little bit of our rock jazz songs and nobody danced and my father said, “Tonight you are bombing guys.” And we tried a bit of our soul songs and then I said, “If it is the end of the world play goema.” We stole the show!

A lot of things are happening out there for the goema music. For instance there is a bunch of Mexican cultural musicians, about twenty of them coming over in August. They are sent by the Ford Foundation. They are traveling through South Africa, and already they want to do something with the goema musicians. They don't just want to get in with the cats that walk the streets. They are seeing us… turntablists, keyboard players. It is not just your traditional marching band. For those cats to resonate around the world, it is easy. It could be the black and white minstrels in a District Six show of Taliep. That is a different energy. We are making sure that the musicians of tomorrow who play electric guitar and play saxophones and electric pianos, accordions, they have got a place to carry this thing. So, it is a little bit of a crusade. But musically it is happening because we can push the boundaries because of our technical ability and financially it is also going to be happening because it is something that makes money. Of all festivals going around I have seen the most money playing goema. And I have been around. I have played jazz, I have played rock, funk and punk and I have never made so much money or had such a good time as playing goema.

Kurt as a young composer in terms of the fact that this is a traditional music that has got a long history and it is being brought into a contemporary way. How are you approaching that?

The style of music can definitely be rekindled amongst the youth because it is something that all people can get into because they all have that in them somewhere. I enjoy playing with people who play goema music.

Mac, How is the group contemporising the music?

Firstly there is going to be no singing. It is just going to be music. There is going to be one girl singing a welcome to the people who come. It is going to be like Abdullah Ibrahim's approach, relying mostly on the other energy besides the spoken word because that can be limiting and it can also put us out there. It is a democratic exercise but I especially don't want that. Just welcome them in the song and let the music go on without the words.

Hilton says.

We have been doing this for a long time and it is quite popular. It makes people dance, it makes people happy. It is not really an emerging music. It has been there all along. We are starting to take it in to the 21 st century now with all the tools we have at our fingertips like you press buttons and there is internet and all that stuff so we are making use of technology as well and presenting it in a way that Abdullah would put something across. We have got slightly different elements but it is all part of the same family.

Hamma how does it resonate with you?

When I am at home I usually just mess around with music. I grab anything that I can find and see if I can do something with it. I have never had a problem fusing any sounds. Music just works together, you don't really have to put a lot of effort into it to make it work. It is just sounds and everything goes. I have played pop music with old school jazz and like I have played some funk with some hip hop and I have mixed hip hop with classical music to see what I get out of it. I don't have a problem to mix it together. We are not trying to be superstars we are trying to bring music through.

Mac, what is the connection between Bossa Nova and goema? Does any music in the country have the ability to capture the consciousness of anybody in the country?

There is a kind of music like the Sophiatown slow jive, that South African sound. There is a sound like that. That you can say is South African jazz. The goema is not there yet. The goema is still a little bit provincial.

When you check the samba, the samba is in the street in its one form in the carnival vibe. When it comes to Jobim it is like a sophisticated penthouse kind of vibe. But, there is penthouse goema too. We still have to take this little trickling stream to all those places. We have the equipment and intellectual capacity, because the composers sitting here can do that. I have heard Alex do that with his trumpet, bwaaping it out there nicely penthousing the goema. We need champagne goema, romantic goema, and all that. At the moment the only music that is doing that is the Sophiatown shuffle.

Hilton says.

The rhythm will win people.

Mac says.

Remember that play Township Boy? Remember how wild they went for the goema music. I never saw so many tostsi's dancing goema music. We are all roar-ting for the goema. We might as well bring that to bear.

Hilton says.

There is always a start. The most important thing is the live energy.

Mac says.

There is live energy and there is live energy. For any music to make an impact, we need virtuosos. We have virtuosos in the mix. That is why you are going to come (to the live show) because you know, I am going to see a damn good keyboard player, I am going to see a hot trumpet player, I want to see the new drummer they are talking about, I want to see Hamma move his fingers.

Alex also plays like that, nonchalant but he is actually pulling big chips out of the story. Me, I work a bit harder to play well and that is why I know when I see virtuosos. When I see virtuosos I appreciate it because I have to work harder to play a decent solo. That is my role. My role is to spot them and see what they have to bring to the party. You can get energy by standing in Adderley Street at the end of the year and see all those people playing pluck chords, but to see someone playing a huge scale like Coltrane or Chick Corea over that, you are not going to get it, you have to come to our show.

Jan the owner of Marvel venue speaks.

It is fantastic to see everybody sitting around and discussing things and encouraging each other. And local is lekker man! And just hearing that South African jazz has got its own flavour whether it is from Cape Town or Johannesburg; there is no question. There is something about South African jazz that is fantastic. And I think jazz is one of those things that can only really be massively enjoyed live. And I think you guys are onto it when you are pushing the live thing because that is where it is at. Jazz has got feeling and it has got soul. People have to appreciate the improvisational nature of jazz as well which you are not going to appreciate by playing the same record over and over. You are not going to understand that these guys are winging it, they are pulling it out of their hats. It is not a rehearsed fully practiced thing. The only thing they know is a vague tune and they push it through and they pull everything out. The fact that we have our own flavour is wonderful.

What is the sense of style are you going to bring through. The coon carnival has a particular style of dress. This is not the coon carnival. Jazz has a particular style of dress. This is not jazz. What are you going to get across in that sense?

Mac says.

There is no set dress code. We prefer playing in leather and spikes but I am fifty years old now and I am going to wear a hat and a tie and I am going to look my age. And Alex is going to wear his leather and spikes and Hamma is going to wear a three quarter hopple and Kurt is going to, I don't know. The new youth are retro, they are just wearing old hippie clothes. That is wonderful. Hilton is Al Capone always has been. It would be cool to bring out the Satin clothes that we have, Klopse gear.

Where do you see it going Hamma?

It can't really go anywhere until people make up their mind what they actually think about the music that they are hearing, or even the idea. It will go somewhere whether you like it or not. It will move; stuff will change, but where we don't know because people haven't made up their mind yet. Same with everything else. Nobody knows where jazz is going and R & B and hip hop because nobody has made up their mind about it yet. For now, all I care about is now and now I am just enjoying it. I like what people bring.

Hilton says.

I like to have it as a subject being taught in schools alongside jazz and classical music because it is a music genre that has to be taken seriously because it has got very deep roots. I would like to see it go worldwide. There would be more money for us as well.

Mac says.

Since I couldn't leave my kids anything I hope that the new generation at large can get this from me that I have put the pole up, one of the cornerstones, and as Hamma says, it is going to go the way that we are all picturing it. I am comfortable with that. And I am glad that my life has been a goemerisation experience.

Alex says.

I disagree with everybody. Ha Ha …

Up to now the goema music has an image of people wearing Satin uniforms, and staying at home listening to old moppie records; that is the danger. This music can either be seen as something ironic, or something nostalgic from the past. The fact is it doesn't have to be anything but us and our expression of ourselves. The music doesn't have to go anywhere. We just have to become ourselves. People mustn't see it as something from the past or something funny. It is who we are. As our consciousness shifts so the music will shift, as our instruments change the music will follow because we are the music. Ultimately, among all the things that it is; it is a means to an ecstatic state within the human being, shifting the human consciousness to a state of ecstasy and abandonment. That is where we want to take people. So forget about what it is or how to stylise it or describe it, let us make people ecstatic in a way that is more close to them than any other way possible.



afribeat.com is a free resource and portal dedicated to LOVE, truth, uBuntu, peace on earth and many friends #storyofsajazz © 2018 Struan Douglas