Johannesburg may be the 800-pound gorilla of South African music, but Cape Town also has a rich, if sometimes overlooked, musical legacy. This disc spotlights the fascinating goema (pronounced “gooma”) music of the city’s Cape Malay Muslim community, which for those unfamiliar with the local human geography merits a bit of explaining. In the colonial era, Cape Town was the halfway point for the Dutch East India Company’s trade route between Indonesia and Holland. Thousands of Javanese Muslims were imported as laborers, and they built up colorful, tightly-knit neighborhoods like Bo Kap and the legendary District Six—the communities where goema music was born. Sung in Afrikaans and pounded out on squat hand drums made from sawed-off brandy barrels, goema grew up in the streets as raucous party music full of sly humor and lewd double entendre. In fact, its driving rhythm and sing-along lyrics have a lot in common with Trindadian soca.
This recording teams up percussionist Barry Von Zyl (a Cape Town homeboy before he joined Johnny Clegg’s band) with two jazz instructors from the University of Cape Town (Darryl Andrews on banjo and bass, Alvin Dyers on guitar) and two amateur singers from the Cape Malay community (Faizel and Anwar Darawies) who know the repertoire intimately. While extensive liner notes make up for the all-Afrikaans lyrics, and the unvarying rhythm of the banjo-guitar-drums-bass lineup becomes a bit repetitive over thecourse of 18 songs, the end result is still a rollicking record that opens a window onto a seldom-seen aspect of South African culture.