Covid silences traditional Cape Malay singing

Ismail “The Voice” Galant, from Lansdowne, is concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on Cape Malay choirs.

Ismail “The Voice” Galant hopes to get the Young Violets, a Cape Malay choir, up and running again as it keeps youth busy and off the streets, but with the third wave of Covid-19 in full swing, he doesn’t know when that will be.

Mr Galant, 71, of Lansdowne, was born in Claremont in 1950. As a child, he played rugby and cricket in the road and learnt to memorise the Qur’an at 12. He and his brothers and friends were called the “Batcha Boys”, and they recited the Qur’an at weekly thikrs (prayer meetings) in the community.

Back then, he says, there were no such things as gangs and everybody was like family, but that has all changed.

At 16, he joined the Primroses Singing Choir and enjoyed singing the Nederlands Lied – a unique singing style that has its roots in Cape Malay culture and is a key feature of Cape Malay choir competitions.

He sang classic Nederlands songs such as Vriende Kom Luister, Ag Rosa Lem, Oraal, Ewaglustig and many more. He was also a soloist, coach, comic singer, and later an adjudicator.

His first Nederlands performance was at the Cape Town City Hall in the 1960s and he won first prize for his rendition of Vriende Kom Luister. His passion for music, he says, comes from his parents, who sang around the house.

“My mother and my father had beautiful voices. My mother would sing in the kitchen when she made food. We would listen to her all the time. And my father… we will never forget them. Where we are today is all because of them.”

He adds: “Nobody could sing a Nederlands song like the people in our community. It’s a unique item. It tells a story about a certain time, like no other. Like Gaaf Maria, like Vriende Kom Luister. It’s something you’ll be able to relate to, a story from a time in the Netherlands.”

The Nederlands singers, he says, are known for their Arabic-sounding ululations, a technique known as “karienkil”.

“He should be ready at all times, he needs to know when and how to do what. He would sing one line alone and the team members would then join in with harmonisation,” he says of the typical Nederlands singer.

Ismail Galant won many trophies for his singing.

His favourite Nederlands song is Vriende Kom Luister.

After 45 years, Mr Galant retired from the choir in 1993, and he now enjoys downtime with his family. However, he hopes to breathe new life into the choir after its president, Shafiek April, died earlier this year and the Cape Malay annual choral competitions were cancelled when Covid-19 hit.

He believes it’s important to restart the choir because for the youth it was an alternative to crime and gangsterism.

Mr Galant says he hopes the Cape Malay annual choral competitions will start again soon because they gave young people a chance to show off their talent.

“The youngsters want us to grow again,” he says. “They really miss being part of the Cape Malay annual choral competitions. It’s going to be difficult because during Covid-19 we can’t even rehearse in the klopskamer, which is where we rehearse, because of social distancing.”

And keeping the singing alive, he says, is vital for the preservation of Cape Malay heritage.

“If we lose this, we will lose our heritage. I would love children to get more involved with the choirs. It is a good thing, and they enjoy it so much. Hopefully after Covid we will get this up and running again.”