Klopse rhythm all in the family

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The young voice of nine-year-old Fuad Richards has the attention of everyone in the lounge, as he sings a popular Kaapse Klopse song about a mother’s love.

It takes his grandfather, also Fuad Richards, back to his days as a youngster in District Six when he used to sing for a klopse team, in later years known in Cape Town as the Cape Minstrels.

Young Fuad Richards sings a klopse song while his grandfather Fuad Richards watches on. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Young Fuad Richards sings a klopse song while his grandfather Fuad Richards watches on. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Richards senior, his son Yunus Richards, his granddaughter Aziz Richards and the young boy live in Mitchell’s Plain.

Like thousands of other Cape Town families from the Cape Flats they are gearing up for ‘klopse season’ when Cape Minstrel teams prepare for an annual competition that starts on January 1 and runs into early February.

The big klopse parade on Tweede Nuwe Jaar – held in central Cape Town on January 2 – gathers thousands of klopse troops in the city for a tradition that started during Dutch colonial rule.

On the second day of the New Year, slaves who worked for colonial masters were given the day off. What started hundreds of years ago developed into the ‘klopse’, which means ‘clubs’ in Cape Town’s version of Afrikaans spoken among the coloured community.

Klopse music and culture has been passed down from one generation to the next, as evident with the Richards family.

Richards recalls going to his grandmother’s house in District Six, where he started singing with klopse choirs.

“I was a child and it was very interesting to see the colourfulness of the klopse and how excited our people become when it gets to klopse time. The klopse there were fantastic,” says Richards.

“That was the place (District Six) where the klopse was happening. People sat hours on Hanover Street and appreciate the klopse. It was our culture. People came together to enjoy it.”

Over the years, Richards sang with different teams while pursuing a career in local entertainment. His four sons and a daughter and 13 grandchildren followed in his footsteps and joined the klopse too.

As a family, they have toured to different cities in the country to perform theatre shows that incorporate klopse music.

Richards says klopse teams practice for months before the competition period starts at the start of the year.

The teams are part of an organisation, the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association, that runs the annual contest to reward the best singing voices, best costumes, best dancers and songwriters.

As an inter-generational institution, located mainly in working class Cape Flats areas, the klopse comes at a time when families want to enjoy their end-of-year holiday, says Richards.

“Whole year we sacrifice with other things that we have to do. Fathers who sacrifice their time with working for their family all year has some time off at the end of the year. He just wants to enjoy his time with his family so he goes to the klopse,” he adds.

“It’s just pleasure, colour and excitement. If you drive in the Cape Flats, you will see the klopse changes the atmosphere.”

Richards says there are “thousands of people who can’t get into town to see the klopse”.

For this reason, klopse teams also march through the streets of their neighbourhood so locals can “feel the energy of the klopse,” says Richards.

But he adds that no self-respecting klopse team would miss the chance to take to central Cape Town’s streets where the original troops paraded.

“Klopse believe that if you weren’t in Cape Town, then you weren’t part of a klopse team. Then it wasn’t New Year. This is the tradition,” says Richards.

“We all had to move out of District Six but we came together for the klopse. The whole Cape Flats today is flooded with the klopse.

“And you will still find our old people come to see the klopse. They pack their food for the day and sit on the streets to see the klopse.”

Yunus Richards is his father’s youngest son and also coaches singing teams, preparing their voices for public performances and competitions.

He says he “picked up all the hints from him when I went to the klopse”.

“I watched my father very closely. I watched what he does and how he puts it across. If he taught someone how to use his voice, I would remember that. I would come home and ask him questions,” he adds.

Yunus touches on the socio-economic situation of many klopse teams who live on the Cape Flats.

“I work with a children’s singing team in Valhalla Park and I do it for the love of the game,” he says.

“What I admire of the klopse is when I come to this one choir, I see how parents bring their children to singing practice and make sure they eat before they sing. They are all underprivileged.”

Aziza Richards at 14 has been singing in klopse teams for most of her life.

“I’ve been singing since five. When I was eight I was the youngest female singing that year and won first prize. From that year I won five competitions,” she says.

Although the klopse is a largely male dominated arena, women sing alongside men in the choirs.

Women are also part of the brass bands that provide the beat that Aziza loves.

“I love singing. It’s my passion. The music is exciting and that’s why people are attracted to it,” she says.

“The music is unique and gives you happy energy. You just feel the music. The klopse brings a jovial feeling into our house.

“It’s nice to see our family together during klopse time. It means a lot to our family.”

She says the klopse is a “big tradition” on the Cape Flats, particularly in her family.

“Since I have been born, my grandfather and whole family has been involved in the klopse. I was also attracted to the bands, the colours of their clothes and the music,” she says.

“I always wanted to sing and asked my grandfather to take me along. If my grandfather or uncles weren’t singing, I probably wouldn’t have been interested.”

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While it might seem like just fun and games, being part of a klopse singing team has a serious competitive edge.

Every year, singing teams from across Cape Town compete for top honours in a cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years in the city.

One of the city’s top klopse teams is the Santam District Six Entertainers.

The latter is the reigning Carnival Kings, the name given to the team that comes out tops at the end annual competition organised by the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association at the start of the year.

The team’s co-owner Malick Laattoe says their team has 1,500 members spread across the city. They are currently preparing their costumes and voices for the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar parade in central Cape Town.

The team celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and over the years has been Carnival Kings four times.

The interesting aspect of this team is that its members are from various race groups. While most teams comprise only coloured singers and brass band members, this team has white, black and coloured team members.

Laattoe says building a multi-racial klopse team has been a conscious decision since they started.

“We sing in English and Afrikaans. We are diversifying the klopse. We are taking it into the township as well. We also have white youngsters singing our solos,” he says.

“We cross the boundaries to let people on the other side know what our culture is about. In our communities, we are secluded. We don’t cross the boundaries. We are crossing the bridge and diversifying the culture.”

Laattoe says they also ensure young people “know the history about this too”.

“When we started off we wanted to bring a different face to klopse. Then it was associated with gangs and drugs. The tides have changed,” he says.

“Our klopse is more about building families. We have a singing and brass (instrument) school. We want to equip youngsters with skills that they can take with them for life. We have youngsters studying music at UCT.”

He says their team is hard at work and now there is “no time for a social life”.

“It gets very hectic. We go to sleep in the early hours of the morning. They are busy finishing off the uniforms. It’s time to practise,” he says.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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