This weekend I was hired to session on bass for the Krismis Koortjies (Christmas Choirs) event held at Solms Delta wine farm not too far from Franschoek, where I got to play with well known trumpeter/music arranger/music therapist Adriaan Brand (of famous local rock band Springbok Nude Girls), the Soetstemme (Sweet Voices) choir – under his tutelage, drummer Carlo Fabe and Craig Potgieter (guitar).
The Krismis Koortjies event which was performed on both Saturday and Sunday evening formed part of the greater Music van de Caab initiative, an outreach and rural music project whose purpose it is to “break the cycle of poverty and dependency among farm residents and employees.” As part of this initiative, Adriaan as project manager heads up music education on the farm; in addition to running a whole bunch of other projects.
Part of the end of year programme at Solms Delta is the Krismis Koortjies event where the Soetstemme, in addition to two other choirs (Sinotando and the Lord’s Acre) from the nearby Groenendal area; perform a traditional music showcase with a live four piece band.
I came in on a rehearsal with Adriaan on last week Wednesday at his house, where we went through the entire show’s repertoire in under an hour – where I battled to speedily write down the chord changes to traditional Christmas carols (Jingle Bells, Silent Night etc) and the locally flavoured “koortjies” (or hymns) played in a “Ghoema” style (an indigenous Cape genre or rhythm derived from Malaysia during the slave trade) and “Vastrap” (or Tramp – another creole genre that mixes indigenous Khoisan rhythms with traditional Dutch music).
The reason why I struggled to scribble down all the chord changes is that Adriaan went through all of them really quickly. Unlike many of my peers who grew up playing music in worship teams at “coloured” churches, I don’t necessarily think I have the ear for all of the different koortjies, as they can tend to sound very similar – most of them even contain the same three chord structure – the primary chords I – IV -V! Any musicians reading this should know that most classical music is based on these three chords, so there’s no challenge in that. However, these three chords can be very deceiving especially when played at high tempo and when you’re unfamiliar with many of them. Regardless, this was a very good exercise in indigenous rhythm and structure – and is largely if not totally overlooked in mainstream media and on radio stations. There’s no wonder local musicians are out of touch with indigenous music, I think it’s a crying shame. This music is saying something, and it’s saying something really beautiful. I love playing it.
Carlo Fabe and Craig Potgieter (the usual bassist at Solms Delta) are great musicians and it was lovely to play with them. I particularly enjoyed the end of the set on both nights, where people in the audience came to dance and build the “Pinkster Train” – a large circle dance at the front of the stage – it really became a big party. All three choirs were singing along and having a good time.
I appreciate gigs like these, I don’t often get out to playing these – even with my own band. I miss that feeling of excitedness for going out and playing music – somehow this whole thing ignited that fire for me, and suddenly working in the corporate world in something very much unrelated isn’t so hard for the time being.