Music Minstrel


South Africans had their first formal contact with African-Americans and African-American music on 19 June 1890 when the minstrel troupe of Orpheus Myron McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers presented a series of concerts in Cape Town. The minstrel troupe consisted of six women and four men, and their appearance was to create a significant impact upon the music scene, as it later influenced the creation and formation of the Kaapse Klopse, or Coon Carnival.
Soon regular meetings and competitions between minstrel choirs in Cape Town were popular, forming an entire subculture of their own. Since its inception at the turn of the century, the minstrel street carnival has been an integral part of performing arts culture for coloureds (mixed race) and whites during Cape Town’s New Year celebrations. More recently it has changed its name to the Cape Minstrel Carnival, although there are still many who refer to it under its original title.
McAdoo’s minstrels stayed and toured throughout South Africa for eighteen months, visiting places in the province of the Eastern Cape such as Grahamstown, King William’s Town, and Alice, where they performed at Lovedale College.
Musical history indicates that their impact and influence upon the Zulu and Xhosa choral traditions were quite significant, as it introduced innovative new harmonic concepts and structures, and was to become a contributing factor and play a crucial role in the development of South African jazz.
McAdoo’s American minstrel styles reached deep into South Africa, in mining towns and bush villages. It reached as far as Gordon Memorial School, above a valley called Msinga, in Zululand about 480km southeast of Johannesburg.
Lekker Links
Wilson’s Almanac on Orpheus McAdoo
The development of South African Jazz Missionaries & choirs; Marabi; Kwela; Mbaqanga; Jazz; Kwaito.
Cape Minstrel (Coon) Carnival
Solomon Linda wrote a song called ‘Mbube’ (Zulu for ‘the lion’), and with his group, the Evening Birds, recorded it in 1939.
The song’s lyrics told the tale of a group of men hunting a sleeping lion; the song was a South African hit, selling about 100,000 copies during the 1940s.
Pete Seeger, the American folk singer, heard the song and recorded it with his folk group, The Weavers, in 1951 under the name ‘Wimoweh.’
The song was more recently used in Disney’s Lion King film (the royalties of which have been part of a major legal dispute between lawyers representing the Linda estate and the Disney corporation).
McAdoo was shocked by the racism he saw and when he returned to America he wrote to the Hampton Institute:
‘There is no country in the world where prejudice is so strong as here in Africa. The native today is treated as badly as ever the slave was treated in Georgia. Here in Africa the native laws are most unjust; such as the Christian people would be ashamed of.
Do you credit a law in a civilized community compelling every man of dark skin, even though he is a citizen of another country to be in his house by 9 o’ clock at night, or he is arrested?
Before I go into parts of Africa, I had to get a passport and a special letter from the governors and presidents of the Transvaal and the Orange Free States, or we would have all been arrested. Black people who are seen out after 9 o’ clock must have passes from their masters, indeed, it is so strict that natives have to get passes for day travel….
I met a few coloured men, Americans, living here. One opened a business in Johannesburg and before he could open, he had to get a white man to allow him to use his name, because no Negro is allowed to have his own business.’


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