This week dumped me into a musical world almost completely unknown to me, and, surprisingly, unknown to Wikipedia as well.
I stared at my screen, dumbfounded, “How does Wikipedia not know what something is? What is this, the stone age?” I tend to use Wikipedia as a casual research tool that can provide an aggregate of relevant research sources. I was left completely and utterly alone, in the musical academic wilderness — an unforgiving, barren desert of potential failure and embarrassment.
I had stumbled upon music by Samuel “Mr. Mac” McKenzie and The Genuines — a tune called “Maanskynj,” which I can loosely translate to mean “Moonlight,” which can be heard here. The lyrics are in Afrikaans, the music a curious yet compelling blend of different genres. It sounds like folk music with the simple vocal lines and the slamming banjo; it sounds like rock music, with the heavy drums and repeating bass line; it sounds jazzy, a little bit reggae, and the slightest bit…reggeaton? What is this stuff?
This is “Goema fusion,” based off of the Cape Town festival tradition, mixed with jazzy and rock elements. Goema, pronounced goo-muh, originated with the Cape Town festival, which takes place on January 2nd each year, called Tweede Nuwe Jaar. Accounts of how the festival originated are blurred. Some say it began in 1838 with the emancipation of slaves while others argue it started long before this event, with a so-called public holiday where the slave owners would give their slaves a day off, which they spent making music and celebrating. No matter the specifics, the festival is now a huge event which some have compared to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, though the Cape Town festival is plagued by minstrelsy.
Goema evolved from an Afrikaans style folk dance, merged with exuberant hymns and banjo playing so fast and furious that it gives Dragonforce a run for its money. Purists may declare that Mr. Mac and The Genuines are not recording authentic goema music, but it would seem that this style has continued evolving since its inception, never stopping to linger anywhere for very long. Goema started off as carnival music, picked up jazz, folk, and rock along the way, and is now a distinct cultural tradition in Cape Town, which is one of the only places you can hear this music live.
Many tourists complain that the cultural music in Cape Town isn’t “African enough,” which homogenizes Africa in a huge way. Africa is home to an immense amount of unique cultural and musical traditions, from talking drums which reflect tonal languages, to the myriad percussive instruments with intricate rhythms, to songs that reflect Egyptian influence with their minor modes (scales). Goema evolved in Cape Town and is authentic as you can get, as real and exciting as the jazz clubs in New Orleans or Chicago. There aren’t many goema music albums recorded, and there hasn’t been much academic research on the topic — two things which I hope will change in the near future, with native musicians being heard by academics and recorded in music history, and not just as a footnote.