"Music made me Right"
We had to get up at 4 o’clock to make coffee for our parents. They lay in their blankets while we fetched the wood, made the fire and brought them their coffee. It was called Kloof coffee -- I remember. If it was too weak, my father always said, “Don’t bring me piss!” There were also other tasks to do: spreading cow dung on the floors, plastering the walls with clay, bread-baking and making soap. The worst thing was going to fetch the warm dung in winter, when the frost lay white on the ground.
I was fourteen when I got my first pair of shoes. But then, also, every Christmas my mother gave me a dress that she had made herself.
And there was always music on our farm; so much music. My father played the pensklavier [piano accordion] and my mother played the guitar. They taught me the guitar. I also sang in the school choir. Every weekend there was music somewhere on the farm. People played old traditional songs, and they even made up new ones. On New Year’s Eve especially we all came together in the old pack shed known as ‘Die Stores.’ All the families performed; everyone who could play, played. Man, how we loved that! Even the children played. Then we danced the rieldans, and only when the sun came up on New Year’s Day did they put down their instruments. There was music always, even on the ‘Granny Phone’ as we called it.
Now all these years later I became the leader of the Soetstemme choir at Solms-Delta. This is how it happened. One day I was working in the kitchen in the groothuis [great house] and singing an old song to myself, that went like this: “Sussie my kind kom huistoe” [“Come home little sister child”]. Then suddenly I heard a voice from somewhere singing the next line: “Ag nee my man ek dans nou” [“Not now dear husband I am dancing”]. I looked around and saw a face in the window … a wonderful, sweet white face. So I went on: “Wat het jy die hele nag gemaak?” [“What were you up to all night?”]. And he answered: “Ag nee my man ek het ystervark gevang” [“No problem dear husband I was hunting porcupine”]. So that face knew the words of a real old farm song. And he sang them so right!
That was the first time I met the late Alex van Heerden, who became our first music teacher. He left deep tracks in the soil of Solms-Delta. We all owe a lot to him. He gave me courage to eventually sing in the Soetstemme choir. And just look where I am now.
A Story from a Solms-Delta Farm Worker
Solms-Delta Estate in Franschhoek invited its farm workers to tell their stories for this book. All the stories we received were about hardship. But they were also about music. The following contribution is typical. If these stories teach anything it is this: the musical heritage of the rural Cape – joyous, resilient and defiant – is as precious as our finest wines.