‘It was here, you must remember, our children played their games’: A Historiography of District Six Musical Theatre

Fourie, Paula (2020). ‘It was here, you must remember, our children played their games’: A Historiography of District Six Musical Theatre In: African Theatre 19: Opera & Music Theatre (pp. 29-51). Boydell & Brewer 10.2307/j.ctv105bbfp.9

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In April 1978, Sandra McGregor held the fourth exhibition of her work at the Stuttafords Gallery in Cape Town (Fleischer 2010: 195–6). By then, she had been painting the infamous area known as District Six for more than 15 years. Included in this exhibition was a miniature proscenium stage with a backdrop – dominated by yellow, orange, pink, blue and purple – of a street corner in District Six. Moving in and out of this bright urban scene were 56 miniature characters painted in gouache that represented what journalist Bruch Heilbuth labelled District Six's ‘indigenous types’ (1978). These characters – which included Cape Malay choristers, Cape Coon Carnival singers, gangsters, vegetable hawkers, washerwomen, drunks, hajis and newspaper sellers – were attached to spatulas and moved around the stage by puppeteer Ray Querido, who had also recorded ‘appropriate music’ for the toy theatre (Heilbuth 1978). A videotape of this production survives in the District Six museum, revealing said ‘appropriate music’ to be a handful of snippets recorded by Querido on a cassette tape. These include Sonja Herholdt's ‘Hanoverstraat’, a hawker sing-songing his wares, Klezmer fiddle music, early twentieth-century ballroom dance music, Islamic religious vocalisations, and a Cape Malay choir performing their traditional repertoire. In a real sense, these snippets function primarily as musical signifiers of the inhabitants of District Six; the Kletzmer music, for example, accompanies a Jewish caricature with a prominent hooked nose, while the Islamic vocalisations accompany the three Muslim hajis. With a focus on what have by now become stereotypical District Six characters, and on their popularised musical traditions, the toy theatre steered clear of the other musical face of the district, the one less romanticised by history owing to its infatuation with modernity, imitation and the United States. It did not, therefore, include one of District Six's copycat singers impersonating Al Jolson in the Star Bioscope, one of the area's cinemas that doubled as a performance venue. ‘Ray wrote the story of District Six’, McGregor's biographer writes, ‘and the play was full of love, music, dancing and happiness […] then, one by one the figures “died” and the buildings came down’ (Fleischer 2010: 196).

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


Bern Academy of the Arts
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Interpretation
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Interpretation > Intersection of Contemporary Music


Fourie, Paula0000-0001-5652-7029


D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > DT Africa
M Music and Books on Music > M Music




Boydell & Brewer


Paula Fourie

Date Deposited:

14 Dec 2020 11:09

Last Modified:

13 Jan 2021 14:37

Publisher DOI:




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