Goema Music of Cape Town

Goema music is like the layers of the goema people. It may be rough and ready, but it is authentic and real. Goema music is ancient. It cannot be confused with GoMa music. Here it is said that the name of the music has its origin the name given for the skin of a bull. This is incorrect of goema music but true of goma music. It is from the Bantu word for song or drum, hence Ngoma, Sangoma and even the word for bull itself 'Nkomo. It is not goema music that comes from the drum. And it is probably not even GoMa music that comes from the drum as the drum was not a primary instrument to the Bantu people. According to oral tradition, the Zulu got their drum from he Scots. And according to mythology of Mutwa the incomparable Princess Marimba had invented a dozen other instruments before she had fashioned a millet into a drum. Goema music of the ancient Cape developed completed separately from the GoMa music that came South with the people. Goema music is much more ancient...
In my opinion its origin can be traced to a star race of people that projected their reality into the stars, they were a pioneer race for humanity. It is said that goema came from the "goem" and the "gaai," the this and the that, the very elements of duality (yin and yang) that made up the creation that the first race discovered. In that sense, goema was a unity of opposites. It was a philosophical origin to a musical form. Mac himself had not heard of this mystic origin, he said that the origin of the word was "goempie. Goempie means you are pregnant, you have a bun in the oven."
And this meets with my hypothesis that goema was a music of the first nation. When the first nation people were born into this world, they were born into Africa and they had a music inside of them. This was goema. Linked to the heartbeat, but pure potential. Not known, nor perceived, but real and natural.

The word goema actually means 'bull.' Goema korb or goma korb means the skin of the bull. It is related to the drum or to leather or to hide or to skin.

The very lands of the Cape are known as a natural carnival. There is a natural movement from the cool waters of the Atlantic to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Sardines do this annually. It is called the sardine run. The bushmen people walked the same route along the entire coast to Mozambique. There is a natural movement. The carnival walks the streets of Cape Town City between devils peak and lions head, symbolically moving from the condition of evil to the triumph of good. The annual carnival walks from negative to positive. Carnival means resurrection of the flesh. Carnival is born of a human experience that is pure expression beyond any distinctions of class and culture. The carnival lies at the heart of freeing the people from the divide and rule that was put into place with the moving of the people from District Six to the Cape Flats.
Communities that exist on the outskirts of towns can be brought together through carnival. A carnival is completely integrative. The carnival is emotionally cleansing and spiritually healing.
Cape Town music developed in a jazz kind of way. It is united in its culture and heritage and draws on all the many wonderful colours that make up its diverse population. Cape jazz unites the fragments of a Cape identity in an urban language. It is sometimes said the carnival developed in imitation of the 'parallel stream of socio-cultural oppression' the black faced minstrels of America felt. The Cape Town carnival which arose on January 1st is not at all limited to being a reaction to slavery however: It is a great jewel for the people of the world to partake in.
Cape Tonian pianist Kyle Shepherd is a born musician. His mother was a violinist in a string quartet that toured with Abdullah Ibrahim in the early 90's. On the documentary film Mama Goema (cape music), Kyle says: “I grew up with amazing music around me, goemalietdties and nagtroepe, church choirs and Malay choirs and the Adhan in the morning, Allah Akbar.”
Kyle's music picks up all the many diverse influences of Cape Town, such as the Khoi, Malay, Afrikaans and carnival and they are incorporated with the subtle poignancy of a master Cape composer.
He says: “Our people made fun of slavery even though they were living in this situation they found a way to medicate themselves with this humour and this music.”
The carnival music of Cape Town is often labelled as goema and is a fun and foolish style not unlike the Samba of South America. Goema like any traditional rhythmical music pattern is open to shift and transformation. It can reflect any mood given and is therefore a universal experience. The basic rhythm of goema is TA TAKA TAKA TA
“ I find goema is a very accessible rhythm. I did workshops in Denmark and students there could learn some goema rhythms and perform them. It is a universal language. Same as jazz. It is language that you pick up and learn to speak. All music forms are related in some way no matter where they are as music has been taken to all corners of the earth,” says Hilton Schilder Poet and Philosopher Lôit Sols said:
The word goema actually means 'bull.' Goema korb or goma korb means the skin of the bull. It is related to the drum or to leather or to hide or to skin. There is even a brand name called goma goma furniture and it is because of the leather that they use. It is taken from the KhoiKhoi word goma. That is the khoisan connection. The word comes from bull —hide of ox. There is another connection and this is the so called klopse. It is wonderful and ironic that the Indonesian word for murmur, is almost the same as the Khoisan word for murmur in terms of the pronunciation. The Indonesian word which is the national language of the Archipelago Indonesia, is gumum. Gumam: The Khoisan word is Gkuma . You have a click and a Guma. They both mean the same, they both mean to murmur. The klopse today were called the coons. Coon comes from the word racoon which is a small ferret like animal, because of the mask like effect of the coons face. Al Jolsen was the guy who brought the whole idea of the clown and make up. In 1838 when the so called slaves, I say so called slaves because they were not when they came here. They were political prisoners. The children of the so called slaves today don't like to be called that. I feel it is offensive. They were political prisoners. These people came here under the most ghastly of conditions. On those boats, there were women amongst them. When they landed here, every single one of those women who could conceive was three months pregnant. They were pregnant from those sailors. The first children who were born from those unions were not the start of the so called 'coloured' people. It is another term I abhor. The so called 'coloured' were started from a union of Van Heerhof, a Danish surgeon from Van Riebecks boat and Katoa. The Indonesian connection starts with the so called 'slaves.' Here you have a situation where the emancipation from 1838, you had the so called slaves performing for the bosses on the 1 st of January. And today you still have them performing on the second of January and people wonder why on that day and not January 1 st . It is because on the 2 nd of January they performed for themselves. On the 1 st of January they masked themselves for the first time. They did not use the clown face for the first time because Al Jolsen was still to be born and the costumes came later. It was a form of resistance, a form of murmuring, a form of hiding behind, 'koggel die baas amper,' and it carried over into the way it is today because of the Al Jolsen connection. Now they are called 'coons' or 'klopse' because that is the sound they get from the drums, klop klop. The word also itself and this for me is the literary connection, it is onomatopoeic, in that you hear the word when you play the drum. I think the original Khoisan word came about through onomatopoeia just like swish of the skirt. The so called klopse, in some way they are still murmuring for the rest of the people. I wouldn't say there are chosen people to perform; they feel within themselves they have something to say. They have enough guts to go out and say those things that other people feel shy about. I speak up for artists. I say that artists are resilient but not more so than the rest of the people who just don't have that extra thing that pushes them to say the things that artists feel they are compelled to say. So called 'klopse' are no less an artist than myself, they are resilient, they are not shy. They have something to say and they use the klopse make up. I am using goema from another point of view. I am saying goema is not just klopse music because I am playing with another feeling on the guitar. It is spoken word, it is music, it is a culture. It is all that. Loit picks up a bottle from the table and says:
This beer says Carling Black Label, America's lusty lively beer. You don't even get this in America. This is the power of branding now. It is the same with the goema, it has also been branded to be the culture of the so called 'coloured' people and I disagree. If you look at the culturalisation of most people in Southern Africa which includes Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola , is that we are not quite the same as we were. None of us, no matter what colour we are. We are not the same as we were, 350 years ago. We are all culturalised. This is the other aspect of goema for me and that is it also a means a culturalised person. A person who is mixed; a person who doesn't have the same composition anymore, in terms of culture, in terms of language, social make up or political make up, psychological make up and all of that so you can see how deep the symbolism of goema is.
On the rock paintings there is a tendency to believe it was done in the same way in which artists operate today. That is now. It was a communal involvement in that there was a trance dance at every full moon, which is sometimes two days, three days or four days. The trance dance didn't only happen with the full moon, it also happened with rites of passage, when a child was born, when a child became an adult, when a boy killed his first kudu, when somebody got married, when somebody died. All these rites of passage loaned itself to this holy ceremony. For the Khoisan there was no difference between the sacred and the secular.
Everything was holy. Even the dirt was holy, as holy as GOD is (which is an oxymoron to me) but we use the word for identification purposes. Coming back to the ceremony, everybody in the community was involved in the trance dance. GOD (just a term of reference) chooses certain people to do certain things. From out of that community he chooses a non-artistic person who has no flare for engraving or painting to do that painting or do that engraving. That person does not know he is doing that. He is in trance. It might be a group of them and they don't know they are doing painting or engraving on rock. They are all in trance. And then the next day they find out through other people that they have done those paintings. It is a deeply spiritual thing, it was done telepathically.
The close association of the goema language with the street life of the carnival has become deeply political. At one stage it was cultural and entertaining, however after forced removals people were relocated to the Cape Flats where a brand new style of gangsterism emerged. Reverend JJ Matthews articulated this to me suggesting that during District Six days, gangsterism was abut self expression and power over ones-self however today it is about cowardice and power over others. Today gangsterism has become infused with the trade of heavy drugs and it has taken goema language along with it. He said, “Gangsterism has changed. They are cowards today. When we were young we used to fight with knives and use the lids of bins as shields. When we were young we used to burry the old. Now we are old and we burry the young.”
The apartheid suppression of goema was successful. Through forced removals they created an entire creole class of gangsters and cowards subservient to their money, who speak their language and vote for them. When people ask how can you vote for your suppressor they say, 'Better the devil you know, than the devil you don't know!' Goema was asked to incorporate this madness, thus attempting to transform it.

Struan Douglas

Struan Douglas is a writer and musician based in South Africa.