Tweede Nuwe Jaar in Afrikaans is Second New Year – that is January 2.
Going back to the 1800s to the time of slavery, Dutch colonialists – having celebrated new year on January 1st with nothing to do on the 2nd but sleep off the excesses of the previous night – generously gave one day off to their servants. Thus new year was celebrated a day late by many people of color and over the years this grew into a tradition of a Minstrel Carnival. This was their time to celebrate that one day of freedom with music and dance, by dressing up in bright suits and camouflaging their faces with heavy makeup.
Every year on January 2nd the Kaapse Klopse (Cape Troupes) parade from District Six to the city center in Bo Kaap. This is a colorful, loud carnival that’s recently been renamed from Tweede Nuwe Jaar to Cape Town Street Parade.
Traditionally it is Cape Town’s colored communities that make up the minstrel troupes, although competition is open to all colors and races. And talking about rivalry, these troupes are very competitive so costumes and choreographies are kept secret, only to be revealed on the day of the parade. Furthermore, competition is not over on January 2nd but continues until mid-February at the Athlone Stadium in the Cape Flats, where most of the troupes come from.
This was the first time we got to see the parade since we’ve moved to Cape Town and it was definitely a show worth coming out for: dressed in bright, eccentric, glittery uniforms with accessories like hats, umbrellas and sticks, along with their heavy, exaggerated makeup, troupes entertained spectators by playing the trumpet and dancing to the sounds of the ghoema (drum).
And as for spectators, there were loads of ’em: standing, sitting, even laying down along the side of the street as some of them spend their whole day in the city, arriving very early to get a good spot. And what they leave behind themselves is gut-wrenching. The amount of trash thrown on the side of the street is a pitiful sight. Plastic bottles, cans, styrofoam containers everywhere. And let’s not forget that Cape Town is a very windy city, so as wind picks up plastic bags and bottles, the parade loses some of its charm.
Nonetheless, going out to see the carnival if you’re visiting Cape Town the first week of January is good entertainment and the presence of so many kids among the performers – some of them really really young – makes the show even livelier.
It seems performers like to be photographed, and readily pose for photos.
And that beat of the drums is hypnotic. The American jazz vibraphonist, Lionel Hampton must have got it right when he said: “Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God.”