December 5, 2017

I tore up your picture (Frank Petty Trio)

Filed under: harry, jumping,music,nicola deane,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 10:28 am

I tore up your picture when you said goodbye

but I put it together again

as I tore it apart it was tearing my heart

only you dear can mend it again

i tried to erase from my mind your sweet face

but i found it was only in vain

i tore up your picture when you said goodbye

but i put it together again

I tried to erase from my mind your sweet face

but i found it was only in vain

i tore up your picture when you said goodbye

but i put it together again

September 27, 2017


Filed under: kaganof,music — ABRAXAS @ 4:34 am

“If music affects snakes, it is not on account of the spiritual notions it offers them, but because snakes are long and coil their length upon the earth, because their bodies touch the earth at almost every point; and because the musical vibrations which are communicated to the earth affect them like a very subtle, very long massage.”
Antonin Artaud

September 5, 2017

Dolly Rathebe

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 3:20 pm

I remember walking with Dolly in central Joburg. We were walking down a street behind the High Court when we saw a jewellery shop. We entered the shop. A white lady came. I told her that we wanted to have a look at their rings. She picked up a key as she went to a locked glass display cabinet. She took out a velvet board full of gold and diamond rings and put it in front of us. I waited for her to make a mistake, and she did. With the swiftness of a panther, I had already taken one of the rings and with my nimble fingers put it in my pocket when she temporarily looked the other way. We later told her she could take the tray back because we were done and that we did not see anything we liked. She looked puzzled as she looked at the tray again and told us that there was a ring missing. There was a parley for a few minutes; we wanted to know if the insinuation was that we had stolen the ring. Nervous, she explained that she was only saying there was a missing ring.

“Are you accusing us of stealing the ring? Are you accusing my fiancé of stealing from this shop? Why are you doing this?” Dolly screamed at her.

“Did you see us taking any ring?”

“No, I did not. That is why I’m not sure really. I ‘ll have to call the boss,” said the lady.

The bespectacled boss came. He was calm, listening patiently to her as she related the story. He then listened to what Dolly and I had to say. During the conversation, I took out my wallet, which had four, big ten-pound notes in it.

“Here is my money, sir. Perhaps this lady thinks I’m just a loafer. I had come to buy a ring here; I am not a useless lay-about!” I screamed with Dolly joining me in the protest song.

Soon the boss apologised and bade us goodbyes. Down the street, Dolly was stunned to see me take out the ring and putting it around her finger, smiling.

Dolly became a great housewife who loved children. During the years we were in PE. I worked at the Bay Bus Company and I did not want her to work because although we were not rich, we were managing financially. She was loyal to her family and even pushing the showbiz life aside, sacrificing fame for her role as a housewife. She wanted to settle down, stop singing and raise her children. PE offered the kind of refuge she wanted at the time. Many of her friends visited her while she stayed with me at 46 Mendi Road and they’d share reminiscing conversations about the good old days in Sophiatown.

Our first child was a boy, Smilo, soon followed by a girl, Nontsikelelo.

I tried by all means to make Dolly happy. She never showed any signs of being unhappy in PE, although she always suggested to me that we should find a place of our own rather than stay at my parents’ place. We had our problems at times though. In fact, I later realised that Dolly was not entirely happy in New Brighton.

One evening I could not find her at home. I decided to go and look for her at 1 Ntshinga Street where her friend Ms Msengana lived. She was not there and I thought that maybe there was a problem with one of the children so I went to the family doctor’s surgery but Dolly was not there. No one had seen her. I then decided to go look at her relative May Cetu’s place in White Location. There was a party at the house and I could not see Dolly amongst those many ladies. May herself told me that Dolly never came to her place that day. I was about to leave when I decided to go into the room and boom right there behind the door was Dolly hiding. She had apparently been drinking. I was incensed and ended up beating everyone in the house, creating mayhem.

Then there was the day Dolly left PE, and her marriage. It was a long weekend and the Basin Blues had a show in East London. I gave Dolly the 84 pounds that was my share from a recent show around PE and told her I’d be back the following Monday.

But when I got off the lorry on the Monday back home, Dolly was not there. On the bed, the bare pillows lay on the floor and the bed had neither blankets nor sheets. My brother Touchy told me that Dolly had left. She had taken the 84 pounds, dishes, blankets, cutlery and other small things. I immediately thought of my revolver, hidden under one of the broken planks on the floor. It was gone. I sat down wondering, confused. I was not going to go fetch Dolly, I decided.

Then a few months later, she started writing me letters telling me that she was remorseful and was planning to come back to her marriage. Almost every month she would send her few items of clothing stating that she was preparing for her return. I wanted my Dolly back home.

Then I heard that she was in an Alfred Herbert show. The show was visiting PE but I got a call from the director, Alfred himself, informing me that no Dolly was not with the cast.

She had apparently met and fallen in love with an American called Smith, who wanted to marry her. It was during this time that Dolly filed for divorce. In court papers, Dolly gave three reasons for the divorce: that I did not have my own house; that I had twin children in Grahamstown; and that I had a child with one of the Pemba daughters. So our four-year-old marriage came to an end.

However, later that evening, I hooked up with Dolly and we spent the night together at the Alabama Hotel where she was renting a room.

Not long after we had parted, I heard that Dolly had gotten married to John Smith.

Then years later, she would call me every time she visited PE. She would invite me, give me a complimentary ticket and ask people to send me backstage. She was uncomfortable though when I visited her in Cape Town where she ran a shebeen in Elsies River. She became restless even though we have always had a place for each other in our hearts.

Dolly Rathebe will remain special because she bore the Durus those two children. When her chapter ended in Pretoria and her heart stopped beating, I knew she would sing somewhere in the skies above.

– The Black Train Rising: The Life and Times of Welcome Duru, by (Professor) Vuyisile Msila.

August 15, 2017

Liam Burden reviews the Bow Project cd

Filed under: michael blake,music — ABRAXAS @ 4:51 pm


Céline on song

Filed under: literature,music — ABRAXAS @ 2:09 pm


One night, I don’t know why, they changed our number. The scene of the new sketch was the London Embankment. My misgivings were immediate, our little English girls were expected to sing, off key and ostensibly on the banks of the Thames at night, while I played the part of a policeman. A totally silent role, walking up and down in front of the parapet. Suddenly, when I’d stopped thinking about it, their singing grew louder than life itself and steered fate in the direction of calamity. While they were singing, I couldn’t think of anything but all the poor world’s misery and my own, those tarts with their singing made my heart burn like tuna fish. I thought I’d digested it, forgotten the worst! But this was the worst of all, a song that couldn’t make it … And as they sang, they wiggle-waggled, to try and bring it off. A fine mess, all of a sudden we were knee deep in misery … No mistake! Mooning about in the fog! Their lament was dripping with misery, it made me grow older from minute to minute. Panic oozed from the very stage set. And nothing could stop them. They didn’t seem to understand all the harm their song was doing us all … They laughed and flung out their legs in perfect time, while lamenting their entire life … When it comes to you from so far, with such sureness of aim, you can’t mistake it and you can’t resist.

Misery was everywhere, in spite of the luxurious hall; it was on us, on the set, it overflowed, it drenched the whole earth. Those girls were real artists … Abject misery poured out of them, and they made no attempt to stop it or even understand it. Only their eyes were sad. The eyes aren’t enough. They sang the calamity of existence, and they didn’t understand. They mistook it for love, nothing but love, the poor little things had never been taught anything else. Supposedly, they were singing about some little setback in love. That’s what they thought! When you’re young and you don’t know, you mistake everything for love trouble …

Where go … where I look …
It’s only for you … ou …
Only for you … ou …

That’s what they sang.

It’s a mania with the young to put all humanity into one ass, just one, the dream of dreams, mad love. Maybe later they would find out where all that ended, when their rosiness had fled, when the no-nonsense misery of their lousy country had engulfed them, all sixteen of them, with their hefty mare’s thighs and their bobbing tits … The truth is that misery already had the darlings by the neck, by the waist, they couldn’t escape. By the belly, by the breath, by every cord of their thin, off-key voices.

Misery was inside them. No costume, no spangles, no lights, no smile could fool her, delude her about her own, misery finds her own wherever they may hide; it just amuses her to let them sing silly songs of hope while waiting their turn … Those things awaken misery, caress and arouse her …

That’s what our unhappiness, our terrible unhappiness comes to, an amusement.

So to hell with people who sing love songs! Love itself is misery and nothing else, misery lying out of our mouths, the bitch, and nothing else. She’s everywhere, don’t wake her, not even in pretense. She never pretends. And yet those English girls went through their routine three times a day, with their backdrop and accordion tunes. It was bound to end badly.

I didn’t interfere, but don’t worry, I saw the catastrophe coming.

First one of the girls fell sick. Death to cuties who stir up calamity! Let ’em croak, we’ll all be better off! And while we’re at it, don’t hang around street corners near accordion players, as often as not that’s where you’ll catch it, where the truth will strike. A Polish girl was hired to take the place of the sick one in their act. The Polish chick coughed too, when she wasn’t doing anything else. She was tall and pale, powerfully built. We made friends right away. In two hours I knew all about her soul, as far as her body was concerned, I had to wait a while. This girl’s mania was mutilating her nervous system with impossible crushes. Naturally, what with her own unhappiness, she slid into the English girls’ lousy song like a knife into butter. Their song began very nicely, like all popular songs it didn’t seem to mean a thing, and then your heart began to droop, it made you so sad that listening to it you lost all desire to live, because it’s true that everything, youth and all that, comes to nothing, and then you start harking to the words, even after the song was over and the tune had gone home to sleep in its own bed, its honest-to-goodness bed, the tomb where everything ends. Two choruses, and you felt a kind of longing for the sweet land of death, the land of everlasting tenderness and immediate foggy forgetfulness. As a matter of fact their voices were foggy too.

All of us in chorus repeated their plaint, reproachful of everybody who was still around, still dragging their living carcasses from place to place, waiting along the riverbanks, on all the riverbanks of the world, for life to finish passing, and in the meantime doing one thing and another, selling things to other ghosts, oranges and racing tips and counterfeit coins … policemen, sex fiends, sorrows, telling each other things in this patient fog that will never end …

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Journey to the end of the night
translated into English by Ralph Manheim
New Directions isbn 0-8112-0847-8
New York

August 9, 2017

Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter

Filed under: lydia lunch,music,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 10:57 am


July 21, 2017

Tune Recreation Committee

Filed under: Jonathan Eato,music — ABRAXAS @ 6:00 pm


Rootsworld reviews The Bow Project

Filed under: michael blake,music — ABRAXAS @ 10:04 am


first published here: http://www.rootsworld.com/reviews/bow-17.shtml

July 13, 2017

Tete Mbambisa on tour with his Big Sound

Filed under: Jonathan Eato,kagaportraits,music — ABRAXAS @ 12:20 pm

first published here: http://www.pubmat.co.za/tete-mbambisa-and-his-sa-uk-big-sound-the-rainbow/

Tete Mbambisa – on tour with his Big Sound

Filed under: Jonathan Eato,kagaportraits,music — ABRAXAS @ 12:14 pm

first published here: http://www.dispatchlive.co.za/entertainment/2017/07/07/legendary-mbambisa-town/

June 26, 2017

Stephanus Muller: Orientalizing Europe, Europeanizing Africa: The Fantastical Lives and Tales of Jan Gysbert Hugo (The Marquis) (Louis de) (Vere) Bosman di Ravelli, also known as Gian Bonzar

Filed under: music,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 1:53 pm

“Oh Ravelli,” she whispered, “you have taken me to Heaven – I shall never consider anything beautiful after this – how wonderful it is to be with you – one lives through so many lives.”

Countess Carmencita Monteleon of Spain

Before he was being invented by others, or started imagining himself in autobiographical texts, he was creating new names for himself. Born Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman on 24 February1882, the first of these names was the Italianate Vere di Ravelli, a name made up for the concert stage. Combining the name he had read in a book with a shortened form of the Spanish for ‘Gysbert’ – ‘Gilvere’, he was using the stage name in 1902 during his second concert tour of the cities of Berlin, Magdeburg, Paris, Strasbourg and Cologne.
A letter to Johannes J. Smith of 15 November 1912, includes two Sapphic reconstructions by ‘Gian Bonzar’ for translation into Afrikaans and possible publication. The letter, signed by Bosman with his invented stage name, ‘Vere di Ravelli’, goes on to state:

I do not write under my own name, in fact I am distinctly averse to anyone knowing that I write at all. You will respect my nom de plume, I know, simply because I should like it to be so. I am not anxious that my name should even be mentioned in the matter. It may seem very silly to you – all this – but please forgive me – it is my little madness.

It is fair to assume, therefore, that by 1912 Jannie (as he was called by his parents) Bosman had become ‘Vere di Ravelli’, necessitating the adoption of yet another transformed appellation. The name ‘Gian Bonzar’ is clearly derived from Jan Boonzaaier (his mother’s maiden name), and this letter to Smith is the only instance found by the present author where its use is suggested. However, on the cover of an undated manuscript of Bosman’s translation from Arabic into English of The Travels of Ibn Jubayr (2 volumes) in the Nasionale Afrikaanse Letterkundige Museum en Navorsingsentrum (NALN) in Bloemfontein, the author’s name appears as ‘The Marquis Louis de Vere de Ravelley’, with ‘The Marquis’ subsequently scratched out. Another undated typescript, this time a translation from Arabic into English of The Diwan of Al-Hansa is appellated ‘By Louis de Vere’. Also in Bloemfontein, a typed manuscript of eighty-eight poems, some of them also appearing in the collection In an Italian Mirror (and thus presumably predating them), is by the author ‘Louis de Vere’. Nine years after his letter to Smith, the name ‘Vere di Ravelli’ appears on the cover of In an Italian Mirror. The ‘little madness’ of hiding the stage name (standing in for the real name) behind various nom de plumes, had abated somewhat.

Creating and then parading different names for oneself is one thing; providing these names with historical alibi’s and characterizations another, more fantastical pursuit. Although the changing preference of names outlined above doesn’t suggest matching different autobiographical accounts, the ambiguity of identity created by this strangely fascinating Frenchification and Italianization of a Boer name is somehow carried over into Bosman’s autobiographical narratives. Until recently, it was believed that these were restricted to a series of articles written by him and published in the journal Vita Musica in 1963 until 1964 (entitled ‘Music’s Exile – the autobiography of Vere Bosman di Ravelli’) and the book Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, an autobiographical fantasy published in South Africa by Tafelberg in 1964. However, during many years of trawling in South African archives for mostly other material, and of speaking with colleagues, friends and students, the present author has discovered two unknown, or forgotten, unpublished and, in both cases, seemingly incomplete autobiographies. A forgotten facsimile of a holograph text containing a partly unknown autobiographical narrative was found in the Africana section of the Merensky Library at the University of Pretoria. This document of 343 pages, which will be called the Merensky manuscript, refers to the book Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, and it is therefore safe to assume that it postdates the completion of the Saint Theodore manuscript, and was written somewhere between 1962/63 and Bosman’s death on 20 May 1967 in the Strand near Cape Town. There are striking resemblances between the content and structure of the Merensky manuscript and the four articles comprising the series ‘Music’s Exile’. However, the article series (and the journal Vita Musica) was discontinued after four installments, and the Merensky manuscript contains much that is unknown, and in some cases more detailed and personal descriptions of historical events and people mentioned in the article series.
The second ‘unkown’ autobiographical text became known to the present author through one of those misterious ‘coincidences’ that sees material converging, as though attracted by a magnetic forcefield, on a researcher becoming immersed in a subject. A chain of unlikely conversations and personal connections led to the ‘discovery’ of yet another autobiography, of which the existence in a private collection in Pretoria has hitherto been unknown to scholars. The holograph marked ‘Outobiografie B 1-19’ [Autobiography B 1-19] consists of nineteen exercise books totalling 560 unnumbered pages and will be called the Loots manuscript, after its owner Jozua Loots (see Figure 1) who generously provided the present author with access to his materials. The Loots manuscript is for most of its narrative more detailed than the Merensky manuscript, but unlike the latter it stops short of Bosman’s first public performances in 1902. It is impossible to put a date to the Loots manuscript, and it seems reasonable to deduce from the narrative and the way in which it ends, the existence of more exercise books, presumably now lost.

Figure 1: Jozua Loots and Bosman di Ravelli, early sixties

Saint Theodore and the Crocodile differs markedly from the Merensky and Loots manuscripts. Like ‘Music’s Exile’, the latter two contain substantially more information about Bosman’s childhood and youth, his journey to Leipzig at the age of sixteen (including an extended stay en route in London in the Loots manuscript), his audition at the Leipzig Conservatoire for Carl Reinecke and Alexander Winterberger and his subsequent concert career which was launched with a tour of the Chopin E minor piano concerto in 1902 under the baton of a young Nikisch pupil, only identified by the surname Hess. Some of this detail is documented in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, but in a much-condensed form. Whereas the Merensky and Loots manuscripts are more or less conventional chronological accounts spanning respectively the time from Bosman’s birth in 1882 until the early 1900s (Loots) and approximately his first return to South Africa in 1905 after the suicide of the mezzo-soprano Isabella Valliers (the object of his untouchable and unconsummated noble, knightly love) (Merensky), Saint Theodore and the Crocodile is a staged, synchronic account of highlights and significant people in Bosman’s life as presented in conversations with his friends: primarily Juanito (Stowe) de Monteleon and his wife Carmencita, and his young guest, Charles.
Both the Merensky and Loots manuscripts also provide more information of Bosman’s musical activities during his first extended stay in Leipzig between 1899 and 1905. Although the account is hardly systematic, one is able to reconstruct some sense of his musical background, his training in Leipzig and his early career. We read that his decision to study music was sparked by a dream vision that developed into a kind of mad obsession:

Was it a dream? I don’t know. But I woke up and found myself at a grand piano on a platform playing to an audience as far as the eye could see. And from that moment I could see nothing else … I was already well advanced in next year’s work when my madness seized me – I use this word for it was just like a wild beast seizing its prey, and I had nothing more to do with it … I now imagined myself not only a great pianist, but a great man with a definite message to my country – almost like a call, a vocation. The voice was insistent, torturing me with reproaches for my cowardice …

Bosman hears Brahms for the first time on the Union Castle Line ship the Briton (on which he departs on 1 October 1899 from Cape Town), and when the ship docks at Madeira he is informed of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. When he hears the Beethoven violin concerto played by Lady Hallé in The Queen’s Hall, he doesn’t know what a concerto or a symphony is, and during his visit to the National Gallery in London he is confronted for the first time with art in this kind of setting. His meeting with Professor Carl Reinecke in Leipzig is described in vivid detail, as is the subsequent conversation with the ‘medium-sized dark man with graying hair … deep-set warm black eyes’ and the most ‘un-German’ person who is the Liszt-pupil Alexander Winterberger. Bosman tells us how he initially has lessons with Winterberger’s assistant Dufour (twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, with Fridays reserved for theory), who studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Referring to Bosman, the professor instructs Dufour: ‘You must begin from bed-rock – nothing, absolutely nothing.’ The result is two hours of technical exercises every day. His first public performance in 1902, also recalled in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, is described with vivid immediacy in the Merensky manuscript:

The orchestra began – something happened to me – my mind became a complete blank – what must, what can I do? Run off? O, if only the end of the world would come, or the roof fall in, or there was a fire to stop it all. I heard the orchestra coming nearer, nearer, like a creeping wild beast – just before my cue. Hess with his baton held the orchestra, looked me in the eyes, smiled, nodded – a light from Heaven descended upon me – I dashed with great vigour into the first chords – in a hall your tone sounds much bigger than in a room – when I heard this beautiful sound drifting to the farthest corner, I was inspired – the whole first movement was played with a strongly accentuated rhythm – warm applause – imagine I was the first British student playing in a Leipzig concert for a long time past – all the British and Americans clapping loudly. … I was not completely myself, calm, without a trace of nervousness or excitement. The second movement, being perhaps on the sentimental side, I was nineteen, was a fine piece of musicianship, thanks to Winterberger whom I had begged not to come – and the Rondo I romped through with evident enjoyment and that of the public showed their appreciation.

Bosman ends up doing various tours with Hess, amongst others to Poland, the Rhinelands, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. He plays both the Chopin concertos, the Beethoven Third, Fourth and Fifth piano concertos, the Grieg piano concerto, Mozart A major piano concerto (probably number 23, K. 488) and, the last addition to his Leipzig period repertoire, the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto. In addition, he lives, works and socializes in a galaxy of aristocratic patrons and famous musicians, including Louis Persinger, Albert Coates, Arthur Nikisch, Camille Saint-Saëns and Vladimir de Pachmann. The Merensky manuscript in particular is a strange book that stops with a letter informing Bosman of Isabella Vallier’s death. It is clearly no end to the book, and implies a continuation, which, if it existed, we are at present unaware of. But the void left by Bosman’s reaction is somehow typical of the manuscript as a whole. For all its colourful anecdotes and intimate glimpses, these do not add up to a vivid picture of the autobiographical subject. The anecdotes remain fragmented. The promised revelations never come. On the one hand the manuscript is positively bursting with detail; yet not a single date or reference anchors the material in historical time. Of the man behind the pseudonyms, the reader learns little.
Saint Theodor and the Crocodile is, if anything, an even stranger book. For one thing, it indulges in name-dropping on a truly epic scale. More than 100 personal names find their way into this 156-page book as acquaintances of Bosman, including artists (like Stefan Zweig, Lina Cavaliere, Emma Calvé and Rupert Brooke), countless minor aristocrats, two popes and the Kaiser. Venice is the stage for this parade of characters, and the visit of the young man Charles – ostensibly the son of a woman once love by Bosman – the excuse for a guided tour of the city and meetings with old friends and acquaintances with whom much reminiscing takes place. The conceit of the book is illustrated best by a passage near its beginning, when Bosman and his young friend admire St. Mark’s square and in which description changes without warning into metaphor:

As we stepped ashore at the Piazetta he took my arm. We walked up between the library and the Doge’s Palace. In front of St. Mark’s we stood silent. I felt a slight trembling through his body as his eyes absorbed its breathtaking beauty. All of us were silent for a few minutes. The Piazza is the great drawing room of Europe. People go there from all over the world. Soon we were surrounded by friends – those who knew me, those who had heard me play, others whose friends were my friends. Charles opened his eyes wide and said to me, ‘But, Uncle Ravelli, one meets the world here.’ Cipollato added, ‘A great world.’ And, turning to Charles, ‘I don’t mean a material world, but a spiritual world. When you hear an artist play you will understand what I mean.’

The metaphorical significance of this passage is clear enough. In this book the reader is presented with a stage filled with Bosman’s acquaintances over many years, traveling through time and space to appear telescoped within its pages against the backdrop of Venice. The autograph copy of Saint Theodore and the Crocodile survives in the Documentation Centre for Music in Stellenbosch, and so does a pre-edited typescript copy of the autograph in Bloemfontein. This unedited version portrays interesting differences with the 1964-book, not least with regard to the passage quoted above. The unedited version ends as follows:

‘But uncle Ravelli, it is not a person one meets in you, but a world.’ Cipolato added, ‘A vast world.’ And turning to Charles, ‘I don’t mean a material world, but a vast spiritual world. When you hear him play, you will understand what I mean.’ [Italics by the current author]

In this version the world described to the reader in such detail is personalized and internalized. It inheres in the performing artist and makes itself present through his playing. The unedited version makes clear that which is only implied in the corresponding passage in the book: that Bosman not only introduces the world to Charles, but that he embodies it in his playing. It makes Bosman into the medium facilitating access to the ‘vast spiritual world’ of Western art and culture through music. If, as Karl J. Weintraub has written, ‘the concept of the self is derived from models supplied by the ambient culture’, the marked absence of Bosman as living subject from his own autobiography (going back and starting with the absence of his own name) could be read as an alienation of the self from the ‘ambient culture’, or from the immediate cultural institutions among which he moves. ‘Over and over again I came up against that blank wall – a lack of tradition’, Bosman wrote in 1964. ‘What a German boy probably knew at ten or twelve, was still unknown territory to me. It was a great handicap.’ In the Loots manuscript he refers to the place of his youth as ‘that medieval world’.
It is indeed the absence of the sense of self that stands central in Bosman’s autobiographical narratives, and it is in this absence that music becomes central to facilitating identity transactions between belonging and alienation, limitations and aspirations. Bosman’s early-Romantic musical self (‘my Romantic spirit’ as he refers to it) is related to the Romantic sense of self typical of autobiography as a genre, but also to the understanding of music as a primary medium of expression of the self in the nineteenth century. If the sense of geographical and conceptual disjuncture characterizing settler identity inevitably gravitates towards a model of identity, the Romantic self constitutes such a model. In this sense the Romanticism of the post-colony is recognizable as a part of modernism, in that it recognizes the Romantic self primarily as model (rather than as creative possibility). This allows it not to be seen as a regressive tendency, but one alive with the particular possibilities characterizing the post-colonial condition.
It is exactly this difference between appreciating Bosman as historical figure and valuing his symbolic value that becomes important in the assessment of his significance for Afrikaner culture in South Africa. In an obituary broadcast by SABC radio after his death, the programme was introduced by saying that ‘with the death of the highly civilized and widely read Jan Bosman di Ravelli, we have lost an irreplaceable link with the musical world of romanticism’. The poet W.E.G. Louw’s obituary in the Afrikaans-language newspaper Die Burger (of which the influential Louw was then the arts page editor) appeared under the following banner ‘This young Boer conquered old Europe spiritually’. The South African Music Teacher reprinted an obituary from Handhaaf, which ended thus:

Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman – ahead of his own time – was, when it comes down to it, a young Boer, a man from our own soil, whose talents had to be developed and appreciated abroad, who out of necessity had to follow his career in foreign lands – but who never disowned his own soil, who did not become entirely estranged in strange countries, and made a contribution to his own people; a contribution that could be of lasting significance.

And yet, if Jan Bouws is to be believed, Gustav Preller wrote in 1936 how Bosman had been ‘pushed away’ by fellow Afrikaners. To what extent it was known that Bosman, as an anglicized Cape Afrikaner, considered himself British rather than Afrikaans for most of his life, is an intriguing question. In the Loots manuscript Bosman recounts a conversation between his father and elder brother on the eve of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War:

[My brother], a naturalised official of the Free State, was … supporting Oom Paul Kruger against the British Government. My father, moderate, born a British subject for several generations saw matters in a different light. He assured my brother he was wrong to think that in the event of war, all the Cape Colony Dutch would rise and join the Boer Republics. ‘We have our own parliament – and as for England, we know her, but you we don’t know.’

Indeed the ‘Britishness’ of this young ‘Boer pioneer’ is a consistently present though mostly silent narrative strand of this story. ‘The Transvaal and the Free State held no interest for me’ Bosman writes during the Anglo-Boer War, later remarking of his debut in Leipzig in 1902 that he aroused considerable interest because he was the first British pianist to perform there in many years. Its potential wider dissonance in an otherwise pure musico-genealogical line connecting newly established colonial Afrikaner culture to Beethoven (most clearly through Liszt and Czerny), remains largely unexplored today. Of interest, at least to the present writer, is not so much inverting the claimed oppositions imagined between fixed and antagonistic white language-power complexes in South Africa, but recuperating the Britishness of early Afrikaans patriotic identity and cultural aspirations. For patriotic Bosman certainly was, as his presence at the founding meeting of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns [South African Academy for Science and Art] in 1909 testifies.
If writers in the second half of the twentieth century were uncomfortable with this more ambiguous identity, it was because virulent anti-Britishness had progressively become a fixed point of reference of Afrikaner nationalist identity during the twentieth century, obliterating the very real British ingredient of this identity (and culture) so eminently recognizable not only in die life and career of Bosman, but also in places and names touched by ‘Englishness’ and later reclaimed by Afrikaner nationalism. Writing about the end of an old English tradition in the former Boer republic of the Orange Free State and its capitol, Bloemfontein, Karel Schoeman cites Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body and calls the 1950s and 60s ‘the last bright August before the Fall’. The way in which this English tradition was gradually erased from the identity of the city as the Afrikaners retook posession of it, echoes the de-emphasis in South African music historiography of Bosman’s Cape (read ‘English’) Afrikaans background. Schoeman writes:

When, many years later, with the end of the paper [The Friend], I was asked by the Volksblad to write a commemorative article on it, I pertinently focused attention on this [English] tradition. That exactly this sentence was omitted in publication under the pretext that the article was too long was, for me, significant: in 1985 the Afrikaans Bloemfontein, as represented by its smug daily paper, wanted no reminder of an older English tradition.

In interviews and published writings after his return in 1957 to a South Africa politically controlled by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party, Bosman also omitted earlier references to his ‘Britishness’. In ‘Music’s Exile’ he writes that the manager of the Hotel Sedan in Leipzig (named as one Müller in the Merensky manuscript) tells him: ‘the whole of Germany [is] pro-Boer and that, on account of my name, I [will] find people everywhere inclined to be kind to me’. However, the comparable passage in the Merensky manuscript also contains a retort from Bosman, omitted from the published article: ‘But I am not from the Transvaal’.
Resuscitating this ambiguity in a historical figure like Bosman unshackles other fascinating, and often interlinking, dissonances. Behind the claim made of Bosman as a pioneer of Afrikaner cultural awareness in the early twentieth century and the link thus established to European spiritual values through music, looms the discomfort with art music as an unstable signifier for Afrikaner nationalism in the twentieth century. Music introduces a tension between the desire to identify emergent Afrikaner high culture with the predominant European art of the nineteenth century, and a palpable distrust of music as an open signifier. In doing so it amplifies the already-existing ambiguous identity of Bosman’s Britishness. The musical world of Bosman is, ultimately, not the heroic world of Beethoven, but the women’s world of the early-nineteenth century salon inhabited by Chopin’s music. It was as Chopin interpreter that Bosman excelled (‘I had always an intimate feeling for Chopin, as if he belonged to me’, wites Bosman in the Loots manuscript) and the later nineteenth-century stigma of effeminacy that attached itself to the space and genres of a man whose music was even in its own time considered less universal than exotically national, also ambivalently colours especially Afrikaans reception of Bosman. In an introduction to the poetry of early Afrikaans poet Eugène Nielen Marais, one-time benefactor of Bosman, Gustav. S. Preller, contrasts what he calls the ‘powerful emotion of a man’ expressed in the Afrikaans poetry of Marais to the Chopin interpretations of the ‘sensitive [fynbesnaarde] technically masterful young piano virtuoso Bosman di Ravelli’.
An over-emphasis on Bosman’s status as a composer rather a performer could well be explained by this unease with the sensuality of sound in performance (contextualized by Chopin-reception), as opposed to the setting of Afrikaans language poetry to music. The fact that Bosman’s entire known oeuvre consists of only three such songs and two small piano works (now lost) has not prevented Dutch music historian Jan Bouws from claiming especially the songs as ‘an enormous cultural event and, together with the Second Afrikaans language movement, proof of the resurgence of the Afrikaner volk.’ The importance of Afrikaner identity is also evident in F.Z. van der Merwe’s description of the songs as striving to ‘develop a new Afrikaans musical style based on the work songs of natives’. The hyperbole of especially the Bouws citation makes sense only if the immense importance of art music culture in the formation of Afrikaner cultural identity is accepted, and if this importance is understood to be qualified by an often unarticulated imperative to contain musical expression within the desired narrative functions of Afrikaner national myth. Clearly, musical works (especially settings of Afrikaans verse) were more suited to this than sensitive Chopin interpretations.
There can be little doubt that Bosman’s linguistic abilities, literary interests and activities comprise another strand of his symbolic value as an early Afrikaner cultural icon. ‘Bosman de (sic) Ravelli had a vast knowledge of languages. He could understand and read 16 languages!’, writes Handhaaf in 1967, before assuring its readers that ‘It was significant how well he could still speak Afrikaans after his long absence [from the country].’ But as with his Boer/British national identity and his composer/performer musical identity, the meaning for his countrymen of this remarkable polyglot talent was unclear. For one thing, Bosman preferred writing copious amounts of poetry in English (the language he also preferred for correspondence). For another, his was no modernist verse or even late nineteenth century poetry as would change the Afrikaans language in the hands of writers like N.P. van Wyk Louw in the 1930s. It was early nineteenth-century English poetry: frequently sentimental and anachronistically romantic in content as well as in language and imagery. The ‘otherness’ of this language and form was, if anything, enhanced by an undeniable, though soft-pedalled homo-erotic current pulsating through the verse no less than through Bosman’s autobiographical writings. One sonnet entitled ‘Norradino’, reads thus:

As in Brancaleone’s arms I lay,
Tasting the brutal strength of southern heat,
And the cool silences my trembling feet
Had trod so often on shores of the bay,
Carved in sapphire, tipped with silver spray,
By the erring moon on its bosom; sweet
Unbidden memories of a joy complete
With you drew my warm lips from his away.

If Brancaleone were only you,
If you were Brancaleone we would
Possess in splendid perfect brotherhood
Love, friendship and passion without purlieu,
Now each of these with heat I must pursue
To still the burning instincts of my mood.

The tone and emotional register is recognizable from passages in Saint Theodore and the Crocodile: ‘His hand sought mine. “It has made me very happy to have talked to you like this. You are old enough to be my father, but in time there is no age – I feel and know that you understand all the immature longings of youth. No one has ever come so near to me as you have tonight.” ’ Of the many differences between the two extant versions of Saint Theodore and the Crocodile remarked on earlier, the most startling is perhaps the ending of the unedited version that appears in the publication as part of a ‘Prologue’. The paragraph in question reads as follows:

Love, then, is like this – ever trailing sorrow in its turbulent waters. Love is as long as life, moving like a lingering dream, with episodes of splendour and promises so rarely fulfilled, and yet its glory remains undimmed. Sometimes I have a hunger for you, not material, yet not easily appeased. It is more like a hunger for the love of God. A part of my soul seems torn away, left bleeding. Your physical presence would stop the bleeding but would not heal the wound. It will be one of the great discoveries of our age to know how to heal the wounds of love.

Placed at the end of the book (as it initially was), its ambiguity suggests the just departed Charles as the object of Bosman’s love. Placed at the beginning in the edited version, it displaces this love to Charles’s mother, with whom we read that it ‘never came to embraces or kisses between us – the social gulf was too deep’.
Yet the use of English and the sexual ambiguity of his texts are not the only potentially unruly signifiers of Bosman’s linguistic prowess. Although it was widely known in South Africa that in his later years he had translated Arabic texts into English, unlike for instance J.P.J van Rensburg’s 1963 translation of The Odyssey into Afrikaans, or the translation of Goethe’s Faust into Afrikaans three years later in 1966 by W.J. du P. Erlank (Eitemal), Bosman’s translations remained unpublished. Converting world literature into Afrikaans was a priority during the booming decades of Afrikaner self-confidence. The oriental fascinations and English-romantic sonnets of the Europeanized Bosman were clearly of less appeal to the society he had returned to in 1957 than the German, Greek and Latin that his Oxford tutor had taught him as a child in the Karoo town of Murraysburg. Europeanizing Africa was not supposed to happen via an orientalized Europe. It is the Dutch music historian of South African music, Jan Bouws, who connects the ethnic, genderized and oriental otherness of Bosman when he writes:

Half a century ago, at the beginning of the Second Afrikaans Language Movement, it looked as though he was destined to take the lead in the early Afrikaans musical life. It worked out entirely differently. In subject-specific technical knowledge he might have been far advanced in comparison to his fellow Afrikaners, but a pioneer, a leader also has to possess other qualities. In the end Bosman had no inner certainty about the future of South African music, and in his decadent desire to achieve excessive civilization [oorbeskawing] he became in essence a stranger to the young, emerging art of his own volk.

Little is known about Bosman’s life after 1912. The Dictionary of South African Biography tells us that he ‘maintained his success as a concert pianist until 1955’, the year in which he returned to South Africa. However, in an SABC interview in 1958, the then seventy-six year old Bosman stated that his last performing season, totalling sixty-two concerts, was in 1938. Although he also had a full contract for the following year, the war intervened. A South African (and thus Allied) national resident in Italy, Bosman spent three and a half years in a German concentration camp, and by his own admission was too ill to continue working after the war. Sometime in 1948 he suffered full-thickness burns to his shoulder, making it impossible for him to resume playing the piano. Bosman later said that the shock of the accident left him deaf. After having returned to South Africa in 1956, Bosman went to live with the then aleady elderly painter Maggie Laubser in her house in the Strand near Cape Town. It is not known how he and Laubser became acquinted, but it seems reasonable to deduce that this must have happened in Europe (the painter studied in various European countries between 1913 and 1924), perhaps while Laubser was working Italy in 1920-1921. A Laubser sketch of Bosman is reproduced in Vita Musica of August 1964, and the present author has found a copy of another sketch which is reproduced under Figure 2. In 1959 Bosman was awarded honorary membership of the South African Academy of Arts and Science ‘for his contribution to the development of Afrikaans musical life’. Of his playing, which was never recorded, we know nothing beyond his own vague and romanticized descriptions.

Figure 2: Sketch of Bosman di Ravelli by Maggie Laubser

Jan Gysbert Hugo (The Marquis) (Louis de) (Vere) Bosman di Ravelli, also known as Gian Bonzar, was a man of many lives, and times and places. In conclusion, however, we return to the image of Saint Theodore and the crocodile on the column in Saint Mark’s square. In the published version of his fantasy, Ravelli tells his young guest, Charles, that the story of inner transformation invented by him as the story of the crocodile and the saint, springs from personal experience. ‘I know this,’ he says ‘for I was too a crocodile once.’ Not another name then, but a mythical persona linking Venice and North Africa, the twentieth and the fourteenth centuries, reality and myth. But the denouement of the elaborate story is strange, in syntax no less than in the striking absence of narrative support for its dramatic potential. The reader cannot accept that this is what the author and story is about. The guided tour of personages, architectural wonders and art works is no stage to effect transformation of an ‘I’. And sure enough, consulting the earlier typescript version of the book, this confession, this identification of the author with the book’s title, is missing. Instead it is his young charge who is changed by his Venetian vacation, and by implication, Ravelli who has affected this transformation: ‘ … you have created a new being in me …’, says the young Charles. This, perhaps, was also the meaning intended to survive into our time; the colonizing vision of South Africa as a space to be transformed by Europe through the actuating power of culture. Jan Bosman emerges as an exemplar of the traveling virtuoso whose European success infuses the colony with European (musical) kudos from afar, becoming both message and medium to his country in the way he dreamt of so many years before as a young boy studying in Stellenbosch. But transformation is an open-ended process of uncertain outcome and direction. Thus it is the ‘transformed’ Charles that informs his mentor Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman: ‘ “I have seen the sacred light, I am no longer a crocodile” ’ We are left to ponder who changes whom when he concludes: “And I am going to call you just Ravelli in future.” ’


This article is based on a paper entitled ‘The Lives of Bosman di Ravelli: (Auto)biography, Colonial Identity and Music’ and read at the congress entitled ‘(Auto)Biography as a Musicological Discourse’, held in Belgrade from 19-22 April 2008.
Incomplete typescript copy version of Bosman di Ravelli’s autobiographical phantasy Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, Nasionale Afrikaanse Letterkundige Museum en Navorsingsentrum, (NALN), Bloemfontein, p. 181. In the rest of this article this document will be referenced as the NALN manuscript.
Rykie van Reenen. ‘Rykie van Reenen gesels met ‘n gevierde komponis – wat stilletjies na S.A. teruggekom het’, Die Burger, 18 January 1958.
Bosman di Ravelli, Outobiography (sic), Facsimile of holograph document, no date, Africana section, Merensky Library, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, p. 210. In the rest of the article this document will be referenced as the Merensky manuscript. In a review of the Cologne performance, the Kölnische Zeitung refers to Bosman as ‘Ravelli’. It is fair to assume that the stage name was adopted earlier for Bosman’s first concert tour in (also in 1902), although evidence of this could not be found in the extant documents. Bosman explains the origins of the name in SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg.
Johannes Jacobus Smith (1883-1949), the first editor of the popular Afrikaans journal Die Huisgenoot and the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal [Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language].
Letter of Vere di Ravelli to J.J. Smith, 15 November 1912, J.S. Gericke Library, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, 333.K.B.35.
The typed MS of about 115 000 words bears the stamp of John Paradise (Literary Agent), 86 Strand W.C. 2. The book consists of a Preface (pp. 1-15), the Text (462 pages), Notes (pp. 1-15) and an Index (pp. 1-38). The NALN reference numbers are M240/89/476 en M240/89/477.
The typed MS bears the stamp of John Paradise (Literary Agent), 86 Strand W.C. 2. The book consists of an Introduction (pp. 1-45) and the text. NALN reference number M24089/478.
Collection of typed poems by Louis de Vere (NALN reference number M240/89/474) on loose leaves. At the back of many of the poems is the address: Louis de Vere Esq, c/o Miss Tyrwhitt-Drake, Palazzo Pauer [?], 41 Via Romana, Florence, Italy.
Merensky manuscript, p. 53.
The author should like to thank Santie de Jongh of the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS) at the University of Stellenbosch for procuring these and other sources relating to this article. The dates of the Vita Musica articles (June/July 1963; August/September 1963; December 1963; August 1964) suggest that the Merensky manuscript may have been the original draft of the clearly much edited article versions. The last article in the series of ‘Music’s Exile’ (August 1964) states at the end ‘To be continued’. However, as far as the present writer has been able to ascertain, no further installments ensued. Jacques Philip Malan’s entry on Bosman in Die Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekensiklopedie [South African Music Encyclopaedia] (Cape Town: 1980) vol. 1, pp. 217-219, lists just these four articles in the series, also suggesting that the series was discontinued after August 1964.
One of the present writer’s postgraduate students, Carina Venter, had a conversation with a friend in Pretoria shortly before the paper on which this article is based was given in Belgrade. The conversation touched on Bosman, upon which it came to light that Jozua Loots’s father, also Jozua Loots, happened to be in possession of nineteen small exercise books containing yet another version of the Bosman autobiography, as well as several other Bosman mementos including photographs. It turned out that Jozua Loots is the twin brother of the man who had donated the bulk of the Bosman material now in the posession of NALN in Bloemfontein, Izak Loots, and is the father-in-law of fellow undergraduate music student in Pretoria in the early nineties and a personal friend of many years’ standing, Hilton Anspach (who married another fellow undergraduate music student, and Jozua’s daughter, flautist Handri Loots). Jozua Loots was kind enough not only to allow the present author access to this material, but also to give permission for electronic and hard copies of this document and the photographs to be made. These are now held in DOMUS at the University of Stellenbosch, where it can be consulted by researchers.
See the whole of Book 6, Loots manuscript.
The omission of the love affair with Isabella Vallier is the most important difference between the Vita Musica articles and the Merensky manuscript. In most instances the Merensky manuscript contains more descriptive detail and sustains a more personal tone (frequently through direct speech) than the Vita Musica articles. Exceptions are the descriptions of famous musicians heard by Bosman in Leipzig, including reports on concerts by Emil Sauer, Leopold Godowsky, Ferruccio Busoni, Ignaz Padarewski and Vladimir de Pachman. See ‘Music’s Exile’, (August 1964), pp. 7-8.
In a SABC radio interview broadcast on 1 June 1960, Bosman states that he left South Africa in 1899 and returned in 1956 when he was seventy-four years old, excluding only the ‘brief’ return to South Africa from 1905 until 1910 (SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg).
Merensky manuscript, pp. 49 and 55.
The specific date is given in ‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Vere Bosman di Ravelli’, Vita Musica, June/July 1963, p. 9.
Merensky manuscript, p. 82. These events are also described in SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg. See also the Loots manuscript, Book 3, unnumbered p. 20.
Merensky manuscript, p. 92.
Ibid. pp. 105-108.
Ibid., pp. 108-109.
Loots manuscript, Book 11, unnumbered p. 21. A description of how Dufour and Winterberger worked together, is found in the Loots manuscript, Book 12, unnumbered p. 6. A certain character, Field, explains: ‘Dufour is an excellent trainer – thorough, conscientious, he never fails you however much you may fail him. I know his pupils the moment they begin to play – something precise, rather old-maidenish, a little sour perhaps, but clean, correct, a shade mechanical. All that Winterberger corrects with the first lesson – they are a fine team together. When I heard Winterberger play the first time, I was then with von Bülow, I was in despair. What is the good of playing any more after that? All the technique in the world cannot make you interpret like that.’ An technical description by Bosman of Dufour’s teaching is found in the Loots manuscript, Book 14, unnumbered pp. 14-16.
Merensky manuscript, p. 123.
In the Merensky manuscript Bosman states that he was nineteen at the time of his first public performance (p. 194), which would imply that this performance happened sometime between 14 February 1901 and 24 February 1902. Elsewhere in the same manuscript, however, he says that he first started playing in public in 1902 (p. 177), a fact he confirms in a SABC radio interview broadcast after his death on 1 June 1967 (SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A 67/68, Johannesburg). Thus this first performance probably happened in January or early February 1902.
Di Ravelli, Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, pp. 90-91.
Merensky manuscript, pp. 194-195.
Bosman di Ravelli, Saint Theodore and the Crocodile (Cape Town, 1964), p. 15.
NALN manuscript, p. 9.
Cited in Eakin, p. 203.
‘Music’s Exile’ (August 1964), p. 7.
Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 4.
See the Loots manuscript, Book 2, unnumbered p. 12.
Translated by the present author from the Afrikaans. All translations from Afrikaans in this article are by the present author. The original reads: ‘Met die afsterwe van die fyn beskaafde en wyd belese Jan Bosman di Ravelli, het ons ‘n onvervangbare skakel met die ryke, vergange musiekwêreld van die Romantiek verloor.’ The producer of the programme ‘’n Hoorbeeld oor Suid-Afrikaanse pianis Bosman di Ravelli’ was Johan Stemmet and the programme was broadcast on 1 Junie 1967 (SABC archive recording A 67/68: 16024).
W.E.G. Louw, ‘Dié boerseun het ou Europa geestelik verower’, Die Burger, 32 Mei 1967. Letters in the document collection of W.E.G. Louw in the J.S. Gericke Library at the University of Stellenbosch attest to the warm friendship that developed between Louw, his wife (the composer Rosa Nepgen) and Bosman in the decade spanning Bosman’s return to South Africa in 1957 and his death in 1967. See in this regard letters 158.K.B.30.
No author. ‘Bosman di Ravelli (1882-1967)’, The South African Music Teacher, no. 73 (December 1967), pp. 13-14, esp. p. 14.; Translated from the Afrikaans, which reads: ‘Jan Gysbert Hugo Bosman – sy eie tyd vooruit – was op stuk van sake ‘n boerseun, ‘n man uit ons eie bodem, wie se talente in the buiteland tot uiting moes kom en gewaardeer sou word, wat noodgedwonge sy beroep in die vreemde moes beoefen – maar wat tog van sy eie bodem nie afgesterf het nie, wat in die vreemde nie geheel vervreem het nie, en ‘n bydrae gelewer het wat vir sy eie mense van blywende betekenis kan wees.’
Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 29.
Loots manuscript, Book 3, unnumbered p. 4.
Merensky manuscript, p. 81.
Ibid., p. 194.
See Louis Hendrik Claassen, Die onstaansgekiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Taal, Lettere en Kuns [Founding History of the South African Academy of Language, Literature and Art], MA dissertation, Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (1977), p. 232. The present author should like to thank Prof. Gerhard Geldenhuys for alerting me to this reference. In an interview broadcast after his death in 1967, Bosman also explained how his friend Gustav Preller presented his ideas for a State Academy for music to generals Smuts and Louis Botha during this time. See in this regard SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A67/68, SABC, Johannesburg. This project was never to come to fruition.
Writing in the book Westerse kultuur in Suid-Afrika [‘Western culture in South Africa’], apartheid ideologue Geoffrey Cronje states the case against the influence of British cultural identity as follows: ‘… a section of the Afrikaners identified with the carriers of the British imperial idea and became lukewarm and indifferent and even condescending with regard to Afrikaner cultural property [‘kultuurbesit’] while displaying a pro-Englishness. This cultural schizophrenia [‘gespletenheid’] – the usual fate of conquered peoples – dealt Afrikaans cultural life a telling blow, because a section of the Afrikaner volk started worshipping strange gods instead of their own culture and because inner volk division – an inevitable result of the pro-Englishness of a part of the Afrikaners – weakened the power of the volk and hindered the single-minded advancement of the Afrikaans culture; See ‘Sosiologiese faktore in die Westerse kultuur-ontwikkeling en kultuurbevordering’ [‘Sociological factors in the development and advancement of Western culture’], in: Westerse kultuur in Suid-Afrika, p. 96. The author should like to thank Carina Venter for bringing this passage to my attention.
Karel Schoeman. Die laaste Afrikaanse boek: outobiografiese aantekeninge [The last Afrikaans book: autobiographical reminiscens]. (Cape Town:2002), p. 302.
Ibid., p. 302. Translated from the Afrikaans.
See Merensky manuscript, p. 102.
‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Bosman Vere di Ravelli’, Vita Musica (June/July 1963), pp. 8-10, esp. p. 10. Another example of this tacit identification with the Boer forces during the war reads as follows: ‘But, of course, the Germans were so excited and pleased about the initial successes of our Republican warriors in South Africa, that I found it relatively easy to make friends’.; ‘Music’s Exile: the autobiography of Bosman Vere di Ravelli, Vita Musica (August/September 1963), pp. 6-8, esp. p. 7.
Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 27.
Gustav. S. Preller in: Eugène Nielen Marais. Gedigte [Poetry] (Cape Town, 1932), 2nd edition, pp. 3-4. Translated from the Afrikaans. The present author should like to thank Prof. Gerhard Geldenhuys for alerting me to this reference. It is possibly this reference alluded to by Jan Bouws when he writes that Preller found Bosman too young to understand Chopin during his South African sojourn of 1905-1910. See Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 28.
Jan Bouws. Komponiste van Suid-Afrika [Composers of South Africa] (Stellenbosch, 1971), p. 50. Translated from the Afrikaans. The works mentioned are the three songs comprising Drie Liederen [Three Songs]. They are ‘Die Howenier’ [The gardener] (Totius), ‘Winternag’ [Winter’s night] (Eugène Marais), ‘Die veldwindjie’ [The veldt breeze] (Jan Celliers). They were published in 1908 by De Volkstem; See C.G. Henning, ‘Bosman, Jan Gysbert Hugo’, in Dictionary of South African Biography, ed. C.J. Beyers, vol 4 (Pretoria: ) pp. 38-39, esp. p. 39. Jacques Malan dates the publication of the songs in 1909 and F.Z. van der Merwe as 1908. See Malan, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekensiklopedie [South African Music Encyclopaedia] p. 219 and F.Z. van der Merwe, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekbibliografie 1787-1952 [South African Music Bibliography 1787-1952] (Pretoria, 1958) p. 133. Two piano works, Zulu wedding chant and Zulu funeral chant date from 1910. The present author has been unable to find copies of these works in South Africa. In SABC Archive recording 16024, catalogue number A67/68, Jan Bouws also calls these compositions Bosman’s ‘most important contributions’ to the musical life of South Africa, and connects them to the second Afrikaans language movement while annointing Bosman as the first composer of the Afrikaans art song.
F.Z. van der Merwe, Suid-Afrikaanse Musiekbibliografie 1787-1952 (Pretoria, 1958) p. 15. Van der Merwe’s description is no doubt based on Bosman’s own ‘Preface’ to the publication of his songs: ‘To forestall the probable accusation that the music of my lyrics is plagiarism, I would like to explain its origin. My ideas about what our national music should be have so often been discussed by the press that they do not necessitate elucidation here. Those who will aver that they have heard my lyrics before are perfectly right, because all South Africans, especially those living in the vicinity of Kaffir territories, have heard that music from their youth upwards. In order to study Kaffir music at its source I made several holiday excursions, especially into Zululand, where through the kindness of the Chief I had all the opportunities I would wish for. I find that the Kaffirs in their great national songs, like Wedding Song and Battle Song, have a remarkable ear for almost Bach-like harmonies – harmonies which are extraordinarily rich on account of the frequent use of even third tones. There certainly is not much change of key amongst them, but otherwise with the limited means at their command they produce marvellous results. I have tried to remain faithful to my models, except where for the sake of atmosphere I employed excessive modern construction. These few songs were not drawn from their great songs, but are simply everyday folk-songs that are very well-known. I hope that these attempts will be the corner-stones of the foundation of a great national movement in music.’
This iconic status cannot be disputed. He appears, for instance, in a limited edition book entitled Suid-Afrikaanse Heldegallery [South African Hero’s Gallery] (Cape Town, 1947) with writers, politicians, generals, sports heroes and artists; pp. 220-221. Bosman is one of only two musicians included; the other is the soprano Betsy de la Porte. Bosman’s entry describes him not as a composer, but as ‘South Africa’s greatest pianist’, and states erroneously that he died in 1938. According to Henning this mistake arose due to confusion over Bosman’s brother’s death in Munich in 1938, an occurrence that could not be verified. See C.G. Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, ed. C.J. Beyers, vol. 4 (Pretoria, Butterworth), p. 39.
Article reprinted in ‘Bosman di Ravelli (1882-1967)’, The South African Music Teacher, no. 73 (December 1967), pp. 13-14, esp. p. 13. In a later interview, Bosman would claim that he could read and write eighteen languages (SABC Archive recording 6514, catalogue number 17/37-38(60), SABC, Johannesburg).
Apart from the published volume, In an Italian mirror (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1921), the Bosman collection in NALN in Bloemfontein contains eighty-eight typed poems (NALN reference number M240/89/474) on loose leaves. In the Loots manuscript Bosman writes about his early reading: Marie Corelli (pseudonym of Mary Mackay), Mrs Henry Wood, Quida (pseudonum of Marie Louise Ramé), Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and the poetry of Byron, Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare. See Loots manuscript, Book 1, unnumbered p. 23-24.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 106.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 8.
NALN manuscript, p. 7.
Translated from the Afrikaans. Jan Bouws. Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste van vandag en gister [South African composers of today and yesteryear] (Cape Town:1957), pp. 27-29, esp. p. 27.
Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
SABC Archive recording 6509, catalogue number 21/19(58), SABC, Johannesburg.
Since the early twenties of the previous century, Bosman lived near the Baboli Gardens in Florence. In the Merensy manuscript Bosman alleges that he lived there for twenty-five years (p. 185).
Ibid. The Dictionary of South African Biography sets the date as 1955, presumably to bring it in line with its own statement that Bosman performed until 1955. This date has perhaps been inferred from Bosman’s return to South Africa in 1956. See Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
SABC Archive recording 6509, catalogue number 21/19(58), SABC, Johannesburg.
Henning, Dictionary of South African Biography, p. 39.
The copy that is reproduced here is in the possession of Alta Roux, whose mother was a cousin of Bosman. Roux got to know Bosman as a child in 1965, and recalls seeing this reproduction on Maggie Laubsher’s desk. All efforts to find the originals of the sketch reproduced here, and the one published in Vita Musica, came to naught. Dalene Marais writes in the preface to her book Maggie Laubser, her paintings, drawings and graphics (Pretoria: Perskor, 1994) – the most comprehensive catalogue on Maggie Loubser’s works to date – that the sketches are ‘well documented and can be viewed at the Art Documentation Centre of the History of Art Department at the Rand Afrikaans University’. However, the History of Art Department was shut down during the 1990s and most of their collection was transferred to the Johannesburg Art Gallery. However, the curator at the Johannesburg Art Gallery assured the present writer that the University would never transfer such valuable art works elsewhere, and knew nothing of their existence. Both the Rare Books Department and the new Arts Centre at the University were unable to help and referred enquiries elsewhere. Further enquiries to Dalene Marais and the Sasol Museum in Stellenbosch (which houses much of Laubser’s work) were unfortunately fruitless. The present writer should like to thank Hilde Roos for her help in conducting this search.
Saint Theodore and the Crocodile, p. 106.

June 19, 2017


Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 pm


June 9, 2017

TETE MBAMBISA & HIs SA-UK Big Sound, live in Soweto on 5 July

Filed under: Jonathan Eato,music — ABRAXAS @ 8:09 pm


Kwanele Sosibo interviews Nduduzo Makhathini

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 7:04 pm


June 1, 2017


Filed under: kaganof short films,music — ABRAXAS @ 3:34 pm

Screen shot 2017-06-01 at 3.39.11 PM
first published here: http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4929

May 28, 2017

GWEN ANSELL reviews To Breathe INto Another Voice

Filed under: kagapoems,music,poetry,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 am


first published here: http://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/book-review-poetry-like-jazz-20170528-2

May 24, 2017

To Breathe Into Another Voice

Filed under: kagapoems,music,music and exile symposium,poetry — ABRAXAS @ 11:52 am


May 11, 2017


Filed under: music,Tshepo Goba — ABRAXAS @ 6:54 am


March 29, 2017

Stephanus Muller & Willemien Froneman – Crisis? what crisis?

Filed under: music,politics,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 2:19 pm


Dave Dargie – Trying to find a Xhosa approach to rhythm

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:28 am

first published in South African Music Studies Vol 34/35

March 8, 2017

Stephanus Muller interviews Stanley Glasser

Filed under: music,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 2:33 pm

It was a wintry, gray London morning when Stanley fetched me at Waterloo station to take me to his home in Weigall Road. I had written to him, sending him the introduction of my thesis on South African music and asking for an interview. He consented at the 11th hour, a week before I was due to return to South Africa. Even before we arrived at his home, it became clear that he had much to talk about. Asking questions was not going to be easy.


SG: When I read your writing, it’s almost an Afrikaner writing as opposed to a South African.

SM: Yes it is. Very much so.

SG: And maybe that is what you want to do. Yours is a concern that I understand very well. But Afrikaner intellectuals are inclined to be elitist, even to their own Afrikaans people. They are so disciplined and conscious and intelligent and they work and they take a problem and they sort it out and their writing is very good. But how many of them have got black friends? Have you got any black friends?

SM: No.

SG: You see, here you are talking about things and you don’t even know one black guy you can discuss your ideas with. That is a problem. I am a very strong nationalist, but my nationalism is entirely inclusive. I am proud of the rich mix that you get in South Africa, which gives a certain character and strength. I feel that in many ways South Africans are more characterful than Australians, or New Zealanders or Canadians. Culturally I regard ourselves, potentially at least, as richer than these countries. We’ve got a lot to be proud of with the South African set-up.

SM: Can you expand on this idea of an inclusive nationalism?

SG: Nationalism is very important to a people. One of the big musics of the world is jazz. How many bloody American composers have infused jazz into their classical works? A few Europeans played around with it. There was Milhaud. And then there is Bernstein and perhaps one or two other examples, but jazz is full of the most fascinating things. If you take folk music and transmute it as Bartók did or perhaps some of the Russians have done, it enriches classical music. The Americans haven’t done anything like it for decades. You get a guy like Copland and they make a big fuss of him. Billy the Kid and Rodeo and the Mexican this and that. It’s skimming the surface. Folk music always enriches classical music, and in this regard twentieth-century music has failed. Composers in the twentieth-century have tried to show that they are technically and intellectually competent like their counterparts in the natural sciences. So you get guys taking up twelve tone writing and they throw a whole lot of things belonging to music out of the window. ‘Cesspool music’, that’s what one critic called it. I have tried to show that serial technique could go beyond what the practitioners of the Second Viennese School devised. I took a little six note African scale, got a friend of mine to write light little verses and I treated that six note scale very strictly according to serial rules. And they were light pieces! I am saying that technique doesn’t necessarily have to serve the purpose it had when it was developed. And now I come back to culture and inclusive nationalism. There are all sorts of infusions into a culture. Take Byrd, Palestrina and Victoria. All Catholics, all beholden to their faith. But when you listen to their music: Victoria is Spanish, Palestrina is Italian, Byrd is English. They’re using the same devices, the same words of the mass. But they haven’t lost their culture. There is always an element around which is essentially culture specific. That is what I think we could do in South Africa. There could be cross-fertilization. In the case of art music we could produce some wonderful works in the future, feeding new things into West-European classical music, refreshing it. The ethno-classical element in South Africa is full of promise, because you have the opportunity to produce a transmutation that can ultimately produce a new sound. In my music I often use a major third, E-C, let’s say, to a major fourth, D-A. Now that’s especially to be found in Nguni source music. And it is sunshine to me. Now let us go back to Afrikaans composers. What Afrikaans composers have taken ‘vastrap’ and worked that into their classical music? You see, it’s below them. Vastrap is not classical music. Bartók, who ranged all around the North-African perimeter and the Balkans was an Hungarian composer. It’s what he did with his stuff that counts. The Americans are in the best position to transmute jazz elements into classical music and they have not done so sufficiently. I feel we can do that in South Africa. That is what I’ve tried to do. I have a sense of private superiority about South Africa over dozens of other countries. When I am up in heaven playing my mbira, looking down, I want to sea Southern Africa like a European Union. We can become one of the power houses of the world.

SM: Do you thing there is down-side to writing ethno-classical stuff?

SG: Yes, of course. An example. Hans Roosenschoon is a very good composer. When he was doing a year or two at the RAM we performed a brass quintet of his at Goldsmiths. Excellent! Excellent! It had Zulu sounds in it, overtones, which even I can’t grasp. Excellent piece of music. The audience of lecturers and students didn’t know Zulu music from Adam, but they thought it a terrific piece of music. Momentarily, I feel, Hans let his hair down. It is one of his most original pieces. But when Hans wants to show himself, understandably, to be on a level with the leading composing schools whether it is in France or England or Europe or America, he is writing European music for South Africa, instead of writing South African music for Europe.

SM: Now that is interesting, I …

SG: Wait, I’m coming to the down-side of writing ethno-classical stuff. It is a question of attitude. He did another work some years later for a chamber orchestra and chopi record, recorded by Hugh Tracey in Mozambique, and he timed his music so that you put on the tape of the original chopi stuff to fit in and out with the chamber orchestra. Ingenious. But it was superficial. Technically very good, but superficial. So once when he came over to London we had coffee together and I asked him why he didn’t go and do some research. He answered that one didn’t need research, as everything had been recorded. Now you can’t just listen to records, that’s not the way to get to know music. You’ve got to be at the coal face and you’ve got to see what goes on. There are all sorts of things that you pick up.

SM: So do you think that ‘writing South African music for Europe’ will only happen when you do research?

SG: Yes …

SM: Composers have got to search for ethnic stuff?

SG: Yes, but you’re doing it out of desire as opposed to a duty. If you have no desire you mustn’t do it. I will do it, but you [Afrikaners] must do it as well. Go to a vastrap evening in Nelspruit or wherever and see what you can do with it. And see what it means, the dancing, the life, it’s all part of the music. If there’s a dance in Nelspruit on a Saturday night and all the farmers are coming in and the locals are coming in and there is a Boereorkes. Where are you guys? Do you ever roll up to that sort of thing? No.

SM: So you are advocating a flattening of the stubborn boundaries between musicologist, ethnomusicologist, composer? Is that what we are talking about?

SG: Look, composers in the previous century became too intellectual. When Schoenberg was heard to remark that he would like the butcher boy to whistle the main theme from his violin concerto – what utter tosh! What utter rubbish! Perhaps he meant that sincerely, but he was living in cloud cuckoo land! I mean, what happened to melody and rhythm, which is an essential part of music, during a lot of twentieth-century composition? If you take Schoenberg, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Bartók: who are the composers who are alive? It’s the less sophisticated ones: Stravinsky and Bartók. The more intellectualized composers are fodder for musicologists. Why don’t we ‘analyze’ Rachmaninoff rather than Tchaikovsky? Because the teachers find it difficult to pigeon-hole what Rachmaninoff does. In Schoenberg you’ve got note row, you’ve models on the Baroque Suite and this and that. Teachers can teach that, it’s easy. But can you teach something that is more spread-eagled and can’t be explained entirely? The academic world is to blame a lot for certain attitudes that their charges develop.

SM: So were the conceits of serialism a myth?

SG: Serialism had a very good function. Every piece of music has a role to play. The importance of serial technique was to put an end to outdated functional harmony. Important harmonists like Chopin began to expand and by the time you got to Wagner, you could go anywhere you like with regard to tonality! You could go from C to C flat, you could go from C to F sharp with a bit of chromatic twisting. That’s why I can’t stand Wagnerian music, because it’s a twilight, it goes on and on and on. But the Twelve-Tonalists spiked this bloody chromaticism, which just wafts off into orbit. And then, happily, the Minimalists came along and spiked the Twelve-Tonalists! And that’s wonderful! They did a very good job and a very good service to music. Today we are listening to musics, whether you like it or not. We are in a great mix, which is confusing and nevertheless also very gratifying, because it means all the more that we South Africans can pursue our own thing.

SM: I want to return to this thing about the ‘correct’ or the ‘wrong’ way to appropriate ethnic material …

SG: Look, South Africa is my love. I love it. I love the vastrap, I love a Zulu dance team, I love the topography of my country, I love all the different people. That’s what makes me do it.

SM: So if you get a composer living in white suburbia somewhere in Constantia or Bishopscourt and he does not write music with ‘African’ flavours. Is that a legitimate activity?

SG: Yes, it is. For him. It hurts me that he’s doing it, but he must write what he wants to write. He decides what he wants to write because of his history. My history is different from the composer who only wants to write West-European music modeled on Boulez, Stockhausen, Lutoslawski or Ligeti. If he wants to do that he must do that. In the end, if there is a composer from South Africa who becomes an outstanding ‘European composer’, that’s fine. But he would be unique. What about all of us, what about all the students, all the performers, the lesser composers – they’ve got to come from somewhere. And their cultural background determines what they will do. The chap who only writes European music feels that his surround is unimportant to him and that what is to be desired is what is ‘over there’.

SM: Well, if you look at white suburban South Africa your immediate surround still is very white, it is more American than African. Don’t you think, given our history of racial segregation, that you will find most composers writing with that sense of West-European orientation?

SG: Look, let us take Stefans. Stefans Grové is the most human of what I call the ‘five’ South African composers: four Capies and one Transvaler. The Transvaler is me and the other four are Arnold van Wyk, John Joubert, Hubert du Plessis and Stefans Grové. They were all Cape orientated and they didn’t have as much to do with black culture because of their environment. There have been attempts to do something with Cape Coloured stuff. But there’s been very little effort. Now suddenly, Stefans, who is the most humanistic and has the best sense of humour – a delightful chap with a lovely sarcastic twist in his humour – he is suddenly coming out with African stuff! Why didn’t he do that before? What has caused him to do that now? Because around him it has changed. It’s always getting onto the bandwagon. It’s the same with European composers. They’re now beginning to use folk music. Why weren’t they doing this twenty or thirty years ago? So it’s coming from outside, not from the inside. That’s the point.

SM: That’s the point then where politics intrudes into music, isn’t it?

SG: Yes, it is. But what I am also saying is that the composer today is looking over the wall outside classical music. I think that’s good thing. You’ve got to write music that people will like. I don’t want to use the word ‘responsibility’, because as soon as you use the word ‘responsibility’ it means it is a decision of the mind rather than a decision of feeling. It would not be to a composer’s advantage to say: ‘I’m now going to study black music’.

SM: What happens if there is black sensitivity about the appropriation of ethnic material by white composers for their own ends?

SG: I get your point. Well, I suppose what I am proposing is that one has to take that resentment on board, and fight it. I know that every time I have gone back to South Africa things have changed more and more. A lot of what I’ve been saying is a wish, an idealism. Now you’ve got to try to put that into practice and very often you might fail. I’ve never felt when I deal with Blacks or Coloureds that they resent what I’m doing. That might be because of what I say or what my history is or the way I deal with things. What you’ve underlined is very important and it is a difficult problem. I cannot give a well-defined solution or method of dealing with it. All I can say is one’s got to go for it, all the time. It has to do with projects, to my mind. There have got to be projects that everybody agrees to work on. What I call the ‘togetherness’. I can see that there are huge problems and of course I’ve have been out of the country in terms of living there for quite a few decades now. When I go back I am returning to my home as a visitor, so to speak, but on the other hand, no one will take away my attachment. If a Black or Coloured resents what I do, too bloody bad. My conscience is clear, you see, I have no guilt feelings. My temperament, my nature, believes in the mix.


March 6, 2017

You think you know me Ezra Ngcuka and friends

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 1:55 pm

OKMALUMKOOLKAT – GQI ft. AMADANDO ( Produced by Rudeboyz )

Filed under: music,Tshepo Goba — ABRAXAS @ 12:27 am


March 5, 2017

Gobisiqolo – Bhizer ft Busiswa, SC Gorna, Bhepepe

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:54 am

January 21, 2017

ingoma yomzabalazo

Filed under: Mbe Mbhele,music,music and exile symposium,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 10:26 pm


The Song As Struggle and Resistance Caucus, is a Black Thought Symposium initiative. The initiative seeks to find ways to speak about what song means to black people in the struggle and how it can or has been used as a method of resistance. The caucus is interested in creating a dialogue between artists on the role of black acoustic practices in the struggle. This is to say, the caucus wants to create a community of practitioners who will interpret, archive and convey the struggle songs in the black experience. At its core the caucus seeks to find ways and vocabularies to stress the vitality of art negre in the de-colonial project.

The collaboration will take the form of three day events around Western Cape. The events will be hosted in universities and townships such that we are able to reach and accommodate as many people as we can in the dialogue.

15 February 2017
Discussion: The Role of Song in Struggle and as Struggle.
Venue: UCT
Time: 15h00
Description: The discussion will be a reflective one between Black Thought Symposium and the Rhodes Must Fall comrades on how they used song to struggle and what song meant for them throughout the protests. The discussion will be punctuated by performances from both BLKThought Music and Iphupho l’ka Biko. The performances will be followed by another conversation that will happen in the form an exchange of struggle songs where comrades of Rhodes Must Fall/ Fees Must Fall will share the songs that have touched them the most and vice versa.

16 February 2017
Symposium: Reflections on the Bana(abi)lity of Song in Struggle
Venue: Stellenbosch
Time: 15h00
Description: The symposium will be separated in two parts. The first part will be a feedback by Black Thought Symposium of the discussion on the bana(abi)lity of song. The feedback will include readings of some of the ideas that were presented at the symposium. The second part will be a conversation on how we can think more critically about songs and their animative power in the struggle.

Visit: Conversation and Performances at the PASS on ‘Song as Struggle and Resistance’
Venue: Pan-African Space Station
Time: 19h30

17 February 2017
Township Tour: Busking and Improvisation
Venue: Khayelitsha
Time: 16h00
Description: The purpose of this tour is to try and get a feel of what people who are not necessarily located in the university space think about struggle. We will go to specific locations in the township and have performances that will be followed by a conversation between the artists and the audience.

Next Page »