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South Africa: Colourful minstrel carnival lights up Cape Town

South Africa: Colourful minstrel carnival lights up Cape Town

This is culture

Thousands of local and international tourists gathered in Cape Town to witness the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar Minstrel Carnival on Saturday.

The carnival, held in the South African city famous for its harbour, has been celebrated for decades and is Cape Town’s longest-running street party, tracing back to old slave traditions during the days of the Cape Colony.

Historically celebrated on January 2, the one day Cape slaves were given off every year, the carnival is still marked today, typically on January 1, by merrymaking, music and a parade.

Performers from local communities, dressed as minstrels and waving parasols, dance and sing their way from Zonnebloem, formerly District Six, through the city centre.

This tradition of New Year celebration continued after the emancipation of the slaves to the accompaniment of street parades and bands.

Indeed, from the 1820s, street orchestras and singing societies became regular features of these performances.

Legend has it that the carnival was influenced by a group of African-American musicians who docked in Cape Town in the late 1800s and entertained sailors with their spontaneous performances.

Many tunes you will hear played during the parade are more than 200 years old, although you are sure to hear pop songs and local interpretations of modern music too.