A friend of mine shared a video about goema recently on Facebook. Since I don’t have a clue what goema is, my interest was more than a little piqued. Mostly because this particular friend of mine has introduced me to the sounds of Cape Town jazz in her own way.
Her house, up until recently, was a one-stop-shop for Cape Town musicians who used her lounge for jamming sessions, and any occasion that warranted it (and a fair number of those that didn’t) would find her home full to busting – singers with microphones, any number of guitars, the piano and even the odd double bass – I tried not to be there on birthdays, New Year, public holidays… you can see how this might have interfered with our friendship somewhat.
Fortunately my friend’s house (she who originally inspired me to find out just what ‘goema’ is), is once again sane and you can enter without being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of, well, jazz musicians. Which isn’t to say that you don’t miss it. You do. But it is good to be able to have tea with her in the sunshine that floods the front room, rather than squashed into the kitchen nook, shouting to make ourselves heard.
Goema (pronouned without the typical Afrikaans spitting glottal ‘ggg’, just gʊmə) was originally used as a term to describe the drums used in minstrel parades (the classic Coon Carnival) but it has morphed to epitomise a rhythm found at the heart of Cape Town’s carnival culture; it’s the rhythmic groove that is so classically the Mother City, and nowhere else in the world, and is a mix of lively guitar, banjo, percussion and vocals, mixed with a good dose of humour.
Goema is our own unique sound, one that separates us from the rest of the world. Cape Town, because of its incredible history and mix of cultural influence means that our musicians are not only inspired by the incredible natural beauty that surrounds us, but also by this cultural mix. As someone says quite early in the teaser for Jigsaw productions’ anticipated documentary: ‘Cape Town is the broadway of Africa’.
What is goema, the ‘goema, goema, goema’? As one youngster on the video teaser so delightfully says – ‘Goema is beyond musical terminologies’; and the teaser ends with Hilton Schilder’s comment ‘we are the master race’. It is fun, provocative and coming soon. We live the ‘goema’ life here in Cape Town; goema is for Cape Town what Samba is for Brazil, to steal a phrase from the goemarati website, which coined the term ‘goemarati’ to mean – ‘made in Cape Town’ – a brand that is as diverse as the city itself.
Look out for Jou Ma Se Goema – a documentary produced by Angela Ramirez (Columbia), Sara Gouveia (Portugal) and Calum MacNaughton (South Africa). It’s currently in post-production.
And that brings me to Mac McKenzie. Apart from jazz saxophonist Robbie Jansen, who recently passed on (I was very lucky to see him at Solms Delta wine farm) just before his death, Mac is one of the goema greats. Whilst Robbie was regarded as having a PhD in goema, Mac McKenzie is virtually the king thereof.
Mac has quite a history. A colourful one at that. Today he might look like a typical serious Rasta musician – but his musical journey spans some 25 years.
The son of a banjo player and carnival leader Mr Mac (who had a fairly colourful history himself), Mac originally made headlines as an ‘ex-gangster makes good through music’. During the late 80s, he re-ignited the flame of goema together with his pop quartet known as the Genuines, who finally disbanded in Amsterdam after a few albums and a fair amount of success, when his van fell into one of the canals.
Then he made a re-appearance in the late 1990s, when Vincent Kolbe took Mac to the District Six Museum and introduced him to some of his musical peers, and the Goema Captains of Cape Town emerged, combining goema with Cool Jazz. Mac’s band featured, off and on and whenever they were together, an all star collection of Jazz greats like Hilton Schilder, Alex van Heerden, Robbie Jansen, Riedwaan Bollie, Zolani Mahola, Ernestine Deane and Jannie van Tonder. Their sound was part goema and jazz, part tango and bop dance. Their album, produced in 1999, was called The Goema Captains of Cape Town.
Hilton Schilder deserves a mention in his own right (another article, in fact), as he easily stands with Mac as the king of goema! My friend described how he inherited his musical talents from an equally musical family, refering to his gift as the Schilder/Africa dynasty.
He particularly likes the piano, playing anything resembling a keyboard from baby grands to synthesizers. Mac and Hilton were musical partners in a sense. Together since 1978 when they formed the Genuines, they virtually coined goema as a unique fusion of jazz and rock and produced four records together whilst touring the country extensively.
He also appeared often with Robbie Jansen’s Sons of Table Mountain, whilst he is behind musical projects like Iconoclast, African Dream (both experimental concept bands), and Rock Art. With Hilton, goema evolved to combine contemporary and traditional African music.
If you want to a taste of goema, then you’re in luck as Mac is back. This time with an orchestra, which promises to take goema into the classical genre, or something close to it. The Cape Town Goema Orchestra will play on Saturday 28 August 2010 in Sea Point. They’ll play a composition called Goema Symphony No 1.
where: SABC Studios Auditorim, 209 Beach Road
when: Sat 28 August 2010
Photo by and © Gregory Franz