Sonic spaces: Inscribing “coloured” voices in the Karoo, South Africa

Marie R Jorritsma, University of Pennsylvania


A common stereotype of those classified as "coloured" in apartheid South Africa was that, because of their mixed racial heritage, they had no authentic racial or cultural identity and history. This dissertation counters that lingering stereotype by examining how musical performance enabled "coloured" community members around the town of Graaff-Reinet to claim a place for themselves collectively under apartheid and in post-apartheid South Africa. Nurtured and sustained by a policy of racial purity, the apartheid regime held a deeply ambivalent position towards those it categorized as "coloured," the racial group it defined as "not a white person or a native." Oral and written sources typically convey "coloured" people's ethnic identity, cultural history, and musical heritage as similarly lacking. Despite this, music has been and continues to be an integral part of the religious practices of this community though its performance has survived practically unnoticed by those outside. By placing the voices of "coloured" people at the center of this study, I move beyond the myopic apartheid view that saw "coloured" people purely in terms of their ethnic origins and capacity for labor. Instead, I approach "coloured" music and history in terms of the sounds and spaces of their religious performance culture. My research provides a narrative of "coloured" social history in the Graaff-Reinet region that is drawn from regional archives and empirical research in the form of fieldwork, specifically participant observation. I concentrate on religious musical practice, namely, hymns, koortjies (little choruses), choir performance, and the singing at women's society meetings. Studying song performance creates a complex nexus of music, race, religion, and politics, and constitutes a vital way of retrieving history and oral repertories. This music thereby provides one vehicle for groups and individuals in this community to articulate a more "legitimate" place for themselves in the contemporary landscape of South African history and culture.

Subject Area

Religion|Music|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Jorritsma, Marie R, "Sonic spaces: Inscribing “coloured” voices in the Karoo, South Africa" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3246175.