New year in Cape Town isn’t quite new year in Cape Town without the minstrels, and some might say the minstrels aren’t quite the minstrels without Boeta Allie Floris.
Boeta Allie, as everyone knows him, has been part of the Kaapse Klopse since he was a boy. That annual minstrel street parade on January 2, or Tweede Nuwe Jaar, with its colourful outfits, face paint and banjo melodies, is a rich part of the city’s heritage.
But it’s a heritage that is in jeopardy. For the past two years, the Tweede Nuwe Jaar parade has been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with an approaching fourth wave of infections, it looks increasingly unlikely that it will go ahead in 2022.
The cancellations are a tragic blow for those like Boeta Allie, for whom the Klopse, are akin to a cultural muscle memory that spans generations.
The 71-year-old was born in Pepper Street in Bo-Kaap, on September 2, 1950. One of nine siblings, he was about 5 when the family moved to Bridgetown, where he still lives to this day.
His father and uncles were all involved in the Cape Malay choirs participating in the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar parade, and he would go with them to rehearsals. He was 18 when he joined the Telstars as a part lead singer.
The five-member vocal group performed at the opening of the Taalmonument in Paarl in 1975. Under the mentorship of Chico Levy and Walter Brown, the group sang at the Gleemore Town Hall, the Joseph Stone Auditorium and elsewhere across Cape Town.
It was when one of the troupes in the Goodwood Minstrel Board asked the group to coach them that Boeta Allie’s coaching career started. He recalls visiting the minstrel show grounds in Elsies River and listening to the banjos, mandolins, and guitars, although there was no brass and bass drums then, he says.
“This is where you could see raw talent as a single banjo soloist performed. We were quite popular. We would perform many items including the English group song Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.”
The Telstars grew from strength to strength and one big moment for Boeta Allie, who was still in his 20s at the time, was sharing the spotlight with the Woodstock Star Lights Minstrels, at the Athlone Stadium.
“It was a very big moment,” he says. “We had to perform with very big artists, and we felt so honoured to perform. We came second in that category. We performed the song Aquarius.”
In his late 20s, Boeta Allie and two other members of the Telstars split from the group to join The Highlights of Bridgetown. They entered singing competitions and competed against The Emotions, The Falcons, and other groups.
“We performed at weddings, and other functions. We rehearsed a lot and we also performed with live bands, no back tracks. It wasn’t about money, it was about the enjoyment and being together and seeing people happy. At the time, people paid R5 or R6 to see the show.”
In 1976, he and six others from Bridgetown founded The Young Zinnias Malay choir. With Boeta Allie as the group’s comic singer, The Young Zinnias won seven prizes in a row for the “moppie“, a jovial number with singing, acting and audience participation.
“I couldn’t have done it alone; it was teamwork,” he says. “That’s what you call choir work. It comes down to your method of teaching; how you inspire others.”
In the early 1980s, Boeta Allie was approached by Abduragmaan Tiffloen from the Beach Boys Minstrels to sing for them, and he ended up as an assistant coach for the group.
In 2001, after returning from Hajj, he joined the Orient Youth Development Minstrels as an advisor. It’s a job he’s still doing, and he’s also still part of The Young Zinnias, albeit as an advisor, and he enjoys inspiring and creating opportunities for young people in the choir.
Boeta Allie doesn’t just feed people’s souls with music and song, he also feeds their bellies. In 2003, he joined the Mustadafin Foundation, a non-profit organisation that helps the destitute across Cape Town.
“On Eid we start cooking at about 11 in the evening and cooked until fajr on Eid day,” he says. “We cook from 50 to 60 pots of food every Labarang Gadji. I am a community person, I am a youth person.”
Boeta Allie’s story is told in Episode 6 of Season 2 of The Cape Malay Jawwap series, available on YouTube.