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Sounding the Cape Music, Identity and Politics in South Africa

by Denis-Constant Martin

For several centuries Cape Town has accommodated a great variety of musical genres which have usually been associated with specific population groups living in and around the city. Musical styles and genres produced in Cape Town have therefore been assigned an “identity” which is first and foremost social. This volume tries to question the relationship established between musical styles and genres, and social – in this case pseudo-racial – identities.

In Sounding the Cape, Denis-Constant Martin recomposes and examines through the theoretical prism of creolisation the history of music in Cape Town, deploying analytical tools borrowed from the most recent studies of identity configurations. He demonstrates that musical creation in the Mother City, and in South Africa, has always been nurtured by contacts, exchanges and innovations whatever the efforts made by racist powers to separate and divide people according to their origin.

Musicians interviewed at the dawn of the 21st century confirm that mixture and blending characterise all Cape Town’s musics. They also emphasise the importance of a rhythmic pattern particular to Cape Town, the ghoema beat, whose origins are obviously mixed. The study of music demonstrates that the history of Cape Town, and of South Africa as a whole, undeniably fostered creole societies. Yet, twenty years after the collapse of apartheid, these societies are still divided along lines that combine economic factors and “racial” categorisations.

Martin concludes that, were music given a greater importance in educational and cultural policies, it could contribute to fighting these divisions and promote the notion of a nation that, in spite of the violence of racism and apartheid, has managed to invent a unique common culture.

ISBN 9781920489823 | 472 pages | 234 x 156 mm | 2013 | African Minds Publishers, South Africa | Paperback



"Sounding the Cape will be of enduring interest to social science students and researchers of Cape Town, to scholars of African music, and to all who have heard, participated in, and developed aff ection for the various musics of the Cape."

Simon Bekker, Journal of International Library of African Music

"This book is informative and worth reading. Researchers and readers who are interested in the music, politics, identity, society and history of South Africa are advised to read this book as well."

Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi, Urban Africa



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