Afrikaans 101

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Afrikaans language music has a long history in South Africa, probably originating with the first songs that Dutch East India Company or V.O.C. sailors sang by the slopes of Table Mountain. The 19th century is probably when most of the tunes known to this day finally assumed their more or less modern forms. This was the period of the Great Trek, the Zulu Wars, The Boer Wars and the gold rush on the Witwatersrand, all factors that contributed to the formation of a South African, and chiefly, Afrikaans identity. This was of course reflected in the songs of the white and coloured South African peoples. 

Traditional Afrikaans Music (aka Boeremusiek)

What is Boermusic? Boermusic is an instrumental folk music, dating from the period during which the people who practised it where internationally known as "Die Boere" The Boers of South Africa. It is informal music that is played in a distinctive way and was primarily intended as accompaniment for social dancing. For the purpose of this conversation we exclude other kinds of Afrikaans music from the same period like ballads, serenades and music aimed at passive audiences.

What is the Character of Boermusic? It is nearly impossible to put the rich variety of feeling elements, nuances and sounds that form the essence of Boermusic into words. It is an "experience" of strong and unique character that can not be described in music science terms. The concertina was, and is still to this day, the top lead instrument in Boermusic. Apart from the different types of concertinas that are found in Boer music, there are different dance rhythms and variations in accompaniment. It is striking how each artist often develops a unique and recognizable style. Just as amazing is how the different types of concertinas as well as the different geographical regions created divergent disciplines within Boermusic.

What are the origins of Boermusic? The origins of Boermusic are like a Cape vine with entangled roots and the development has to be distilled from history and myth. The earliest writings contained no reference to the term "Boermusic" or "Boere orkes" (Boermusic band). It is therefor necessary to search for clues that point to the music in question as light, cheerful, informal and indigenous dance music and not formal or classical music. For that we have to follow references to music-, dance- and song habits during the course of history to determine the inception of Boermusic and how it developed.

Boermusic is largely European in origin and it would be a misconception to think that all of it was brought to South Africa by the early settlers. Most of it was imported fairly recently but acquired a flavour of its own and remained in vogue here long after it went out of fashion abroad.

How did it come to South Africa? Whenever a certain dance became popular in Europe or anywhere else, it was not long before it was introduced in the Cape by military bands of the British Empire. Whenever they were off duty, they hired themelves out for parties, weddings and other social events. There where dance masters who taught the new dances to the locals and from there it spread into the hinterland. It acquired a local flavour and character of its own in the process. A large volume of Boermusic was consequently composed by local musicans, as is still the case today.

There where also music teachers who noted down local tunes. The first person to do this was Charles Etienne Boniface (1787-1853) who arrived in the Cape in February 1807. (Based on the book by Wilhelm Shultz, "Die ontstaan en ontwikkeling van Boeremusiek")

Afrikaans Songs

- Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet staan stil . ('Jan Pierewiet, Jan Pierewiet, Jan Piereweit, stand still.')

- " Mamma, ek wil 'n man hê " ("Mum, I want to have a husband")

- "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" (former national anthem - parts of which have been incorporated into the current anthem)

- " Aai Aai die Witborskraai " ('Oh, Oh the Pied Crow')

- " Afrikaners is plesierig " ('Afrikaners are fun')

- " De La Rey " (popular and patriotic song for white South Africans by Bok van Blerk)

- " Kom Saam Met My " (Johannesburg-native alternative band Seether, formerly known as Saron Gas.)

- " Sarie Marais " (Sentimental Transvaal Boer War Song, also sung by the British Royal Marines)

- " Suikerbossie " ( Sugarbush ( a type of Protea flower) a traditional Afrikaans love song)

- " Hasie, hoeko' is jou stert so kort? " Typical Cape Coloured Afrikaans humorous song

- " Die Alabama " Cape Coloured Afrikaans song celebrating a confederate ship sailing to the Cape in the 1860s.

Afrikaans Hip-Hop

There is also a growing Afrikaans language Hip-Hop scene with a number of groups, mostly Cape Coloured in origin, having had success on the international scene, including:-

- Profets of da City

- Braase vannie Kaap

- Parliament

- Kallitz

- Terror MC

- Mr-H

Interestingly, these groups have had some success in The Netherlands where, owing to intelligibility between Afrikaans and Dutch, Kaapse Hiep-Hop has become quite popular. Many of the groups sing about the harsh and unfair conditions under which Cape Coloured people have been forced to live in the past and also the continuing racism and discrimination they face in the New South Africa, mostly owing to the alleged nepotism of the ANC government at the expense of non-black communities in South Africa, i.e. white South Africans (especially Afrikaans-speakers), Indians, Coloureds and the indigenous Khoi and Bushmen.

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