Closing of SA Music Research Blog

Dear Readers

It is now time for a change! This blog will be closing on 30 April 2016. Some of the content will be transferred to other platforms, in which case the administrator of this blog will communicate it with the respective authors.

Thank you for your contributions!
SA Music Research Blog Administrator


Research sources for Jewish (music) studies

For researchers on (South African) Jewish music, the following resources may be useful:

African Jewish Congress

Black Jews of Southern Africa

Department of Religious Studies, University of Cape Town

Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS)

Faith Communities and apartheid

International Jewish Cemetery Project: South Africa

Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch Centres in South Africa

Jewish Communities of the World: Jewish South Africa

Jewish Currents

Jewish Genealogy Blog

Jewish Geneology Main Site

Jewish Photo Library

Jewish Research in South Africa (Ancestry24)

Jewish South African SIG (Special Interest Group)

Jewish Women’s Archive

Kaplan Centre, University of Cape Town

Music, Memory and Migration in the Post-Holocaust Jewish Experience-Pro

South Africa: Jewish Family History Research Guide

South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation

South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD)

South African Jewish Museum

South African Jewish Year Book Database

South African Union for Progressive Judaism


Tikvath Israel Congregation

Witbank Jewish Community

Listening to heavy metal – “it’s like entering a completely different world”, by Vincent Varrie

Me: How often do you listen to music?

Rauvoun: (Jokingly responds) every 20 seconds. Every day of my life. How often am I awake?

Me: What effect does metal music have in your life?

Rauvoun: Keeps me calm when I’m calm, and makes me calm when I’m feeling everything else.[i]

Metal like all other music genres, has a rich history that includes pioneers, virtuosos and stalwarts.[ii] Musicians such as Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, Judast Priest and Led Zeppelin shocked the world with their technicality, originality and aggressive attitude and stage performances. According to Robert Walser, heavy metal was transformed during the 1980s “from the moribund music of a fading subculture into the dominant genre of American music.” [iii] This is illustrated in the record sales – by 1989, 40% of all sound recordings sold in the United States were heavy metal records.[iv] Although not as popular as it once was, heavy metal music is still being performed and listened to all over the world.

As a “metalhead”, heavy metal music played an important part in my development as a musician. In order to better understand the influence of this genre on my own music making as well as that of some of its other listeners, I attended two concerts at the music club Gandalfs as a participant observer and interviewed individuals who regularly listens to heavy metal. Gandalfs is a club located in Cape Town with a live music venue, ROAR, upstairs, that is dedicated to heavy metal, black metal and indie rock performances.

To understand why “metalheads” are so passionate about this musical form, it is important to know where it all started.

Brief History

The term heavy metal, originally used to refer to toxic or poisonous metallic chemical elements, was adopted in the 1960s by William S. Burroughs in his book Nova Express (1964) to refer to one of his character as “the heavy metal kid.”[v] Subsequently, he is often credited for inspiring the genre. The characteristics that came to be associated with heavy metal namely power, loudness and aggression are all indebted to the historical circulation of images, qualities and metaphors that were prevalent during the 1960s when this genre gained its stylistic identity. [vi]

This identity can be traced back to the rise of African-American blues, with artists including Howlin Wolf, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Muddy Waters and later the man that revolutionized blues, Jimi Hendrix. Some of the stylistic elements of these musicians that influenced the heavy metal music genre include harmonic progressions, vocal lines and guitar improvisations on the pentatonic scales that are derived from blues music. Other pioneers such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath gave us the original metal sound as well as the “devils note” (the flat five) and the power chord.[vii] Interestingly, throughout heavy metal’s history, its most influential musicians have been guitarists who have studied classical music, such as Eddy van Halen, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Angus Young, Yngwie Malmsteen and Randy Rhoads.[viii]

The music

Walser states that an extremely distorted electric guitar is the most important aural sign of heavy metal or hard rock, stemming from the 1950s, where guitarists experimented with distortion through slashing their speaker cones.[ix] This also points to the relation with the vocal chords where distortion is evident when we scream or shout – a sign of extreme power and intense expression. This search for distortion and its link to chord voicings led to the development of power chords, which is an open fifth or fourth played on the lower strings. A brilliance and edge is added by the higher harmonics created by the distortion and a weight to the sound is created by the resultant tones produced by the interval combinations of the power chords.

The vocals sounds are similar in some ways to the style of guitar playing in metal, with vocalists deliberately distorting their voices, or singing long sustained notes to suggest intensity and power. The continued development of technology and equipment has also allowed metal music to develop a stronger dependence on volume, reverb, echo and overdubbing. Occasionally there are back up voices, usually during the chorus section of the song to enlarge the statements of the solo voice.[x] However the main solo instrument remains the guitar and the work of Eddie van Halen, for example, has inspired a generation of young guitar players towards greater technical competence. [xi]

Why we listen to heavy metal music?

When you first walk up the stairs to ROAR, which is on the second floor of Gandalfs where the live performances are, you walk under a black light. You immediately light up like a Christmas tree at night and at the end of the stairs you pay your entry fee and get a stamp. It is like entering a totally different world, because I completely forgot that it was raining until I felt the leak in the roof, but it was a refreshing feeling. The wall of sound on both floors and immense heat on the top floor makes you completely forget where you came from. [xii]

As noted in the previous section, heavy metal relies on loud volumes, distortion and reverb to establish a sense of power and disruption. Robert Walser also notes that “both the extreme volume and artificially produced aural indicators of space allow the music to transform the actual location of the listener”. [xiii] The volume and intensity of these concerts and the music, enables the listener to step into a different world.

During a performance on 29 August at Gandalf’s one of my favorite South African bands, “Oh God,” a progressive metal band that regularly changes time signatures, I saw everyone head banging to the constant changing of time signature and most people even staying in time. Some metal bands had painted faces and some went even further with chains, nooses, masks, and painted limbs resembling blood. I watched the guitarist of the band, “Devilspeak,” who performed before “Oh God”, De Wet Loots, changed his outfit from a mask with an inverted cross, to a gas mask and adding a noose to his attire. He rain danced to almost every band that played that night while bumping into everyone around him.

This is indicative of the space that heavy metal music has created outside of the struggles and constraints of daily life, where you can express yourself and where you have agency to choose to participate in the chaos that surrounds you through dancing and screeching along to the lyrics – and this sense of agency, as illustrated in the opening interview, allows its listeners to “stay calm when [we] feel everything else”. Kelly Schwartz has noted for example that heavy metal may not only “distract individuals through external stimulation,” but that it may also “serve as a social validation for what [listeners] think and feel about themselves, others, and society”. [xiv]

Metal music has given me, and so many of its listeners, a place to belong and a purpose in life. At Gandalfs you get drowned in everything heavy metal; smoking, alcohol, excessive swearing and a wall of distortion that completely sucks you in. The music lets you escape from the shackles of everyday life. Whereas I never dreamt of picking up an instrument, I am now blustering along learning the riffs to all my favourite songs and studying towards a degree in music.

[i] Interview done with Rauvoun Walker, 3 September 2015, Cape Town.

[ii] This is a version of an essay presented in partial fulfillment for the subject Academic Literacy as part of the Music Diploma Programme at the Music Department, Stellenbosch University.

[iii] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1993), p. 11.

[iv] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: p. 11.

[v] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: p. 8.

[vi] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: p. 1.

[vii] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: pp. 8-9.

[viii] Robert Walser, ‘Eruptions’: p. 263.

[ix] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: p. 41.

[x] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: p. 45.

[xi] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: pp. 50-51.

[xii] A fieldnote written on 15 August 2015 at Gandalfs in Cape Town.

[xiii] Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: pp. 44-45.

[xiv] Kelly Schwarts, ‘Music preferences, personality, style and developmental issues of adolescents’, Journal of Youth Ministry, Vol. 3/1 (2004), p. 49.


Support new music composition in South Africa

‘Give piece a chance! Fund new music composition in South Africa by supporting the Piece Makers.’ See below and also

Auschwitz remembered 70 years on

Hearing Landscape Critically, Harvard 2015

 Hearing Landscape Critically: Music, Place, and the Spaces of Sound

‘Everything that is resounds … The landscape resounds; facades, caricatures, halos, shadows dance across it.’

-Alphonso Lingis
Harvard University
14-16 January 2015


Landscapes are spaces of community and segregation, of inspiration, mystification, nourishment, and devastation. Though landscape has long been acknowledged as a foundational element of our historical and contemporary engagement with the world, the significance of sound and music in shaping notions and perceptions of landscape has only recently begun to receive sustained critical attention.

The third meeting of the ‘Hearing Landscape Critically’ research network will take place at Harvard University, 14-16 January 2015. The aim of this three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust is to transform our sense of sound in landscape, and to document, investigate, and provoke critical encounters between the social and acoustic agents involved in the formations of landscape. The network embraces an interdisciplinary methodology and brings together scholars from diverse geographical contexts and academic fields (including art history, literary studies, and cultural geography) alongside creative practitioners, prompting new ways of thinking about sound, music, space, and place.

Conference details here.

In memoriam: Stefans Grové

South Africa’s true musical spokesman has passed. The youngest of an influential triumvirate known as the ‘founding fathers’ of South African Art Music,* Stefans Grové certainly received a more consistent international presence as a composer than his two colleagues. This is due to the characteristic energy and rhythmic drive that is such a common feature in his compositional oeuvre. Indeed, it is no secret that Grové suffered from a mild form of Tourette-syndrome. In fact, in an interview with Stephanus Muller some years ago,** the composer admitted the possibility of his ailment contributing to the distinguishingly indelible features of his own music.

Born into a family of some cultural distinction, his uncles, Professors Daniel and Maarten Roode, were the directors of the Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom music conservatoires respectively; and certainly such familial conditions would incite Grové to be a musician. As a boy, he was shy, and found much solace at the piano where he would spend many hours composing. Such prodigious musical ability culminated in him being appointed, at the age of twenty, as a music teacher and organist in the small town of Klerksdorp.

His compositional career firmly began upon the recommendation of Professor Eric Grant, Dean and Director of the Faculty of Music at the University of Cape Town. Here he studied composition with WH Bell, and after his death, with the Scotsman Erik Chisholm. J. Cameron Taylor and Harold Rubens were his piano teachers.

A pivotal moment in his career was in 1953 when he was awarded the Fulbright scholarship – he was the first South African recipient. Such a prestigious award enabled him to study with Walter Piston at Harvard University, and later with Copland. This early period in the young composer’s life would serve as a decisive moment in the codification of his compositional style. The assimilation of neoclassicism, Bachian counterpoint and the music of Hindemith led to one of his first successful works, the Flute Sonata of 1955. Interestingly, the composer later remarked on the latter as ‘fairly inaccessible’. Certainly, ‘inaccessible’ music was not uncommon in the contemporary classical music scene of that period—a time in which the identity of music itself was questioned and pushed into new directions.

Upon his return to South Africa in 1972, Grové was appointed Professor of Music at Pretoria University. At this stage, he was a distinguished South African composer with a significant international presence. However, he must have been shocked at the South Africa he returned to. Just as he had matured as a composer and as a person, the country’s ideals of racial segregation and policies of apartheid were firmly rooted within its society, and had been so for many years. Though it is indisputable that he had been visiting South Africa quite often during his stay in America, the increased political unfairness and hostility to non-whites surely made an impression only after he had settled permanently in his home country.

However, Grové’s return to the troubled country was certainly not in vain. Indeed, it was a homecoming in the truest sense of the term; and certainly it was following his return to South Africa that some of his best music was written. This was due to a stylistic change of his music in 1984, when, on one morning, he heard the singing of a black African streetworker. This tune consumed his thoughts for the rest of the morning, but when he tried to find the streetworker, he had gone. Such a physical encounter served as a catalyst for him to write music with ‘African’ musical aesthetics, just as Priaulx Rainier (another South African-born composer) had done. The first work to reflect such sentiments was his violin sonata titled Music from Africa no.1.

Since then, a stream of Africa-inspired works followed, such as his monumental piano etudes Songs and Dances from Africa, Nonyana: the ceremonial dancer for piano, Afrika Hymnus for organ, and Dance rhapsody: an African city for orchestra; the African city being Pretoria, where he lived for many years.

Certainly this stylistic shift can be seen as a very significant step for the music of Stefans Grové. Not only does it place him as one of the first South African composers to have a serious commitment to the indigenous music of his country (already showing this in the height of apartheid); he also achieved to write music that was certainly more accessible and familiar to South Africans than that of his compositional peers.

 Dominic Daula

Stefans Grové was born in Bethlehem, in the Orange Free State, South Africa on 23 July 1922. He died in Pretoria, South Africa on 29 May 2014. He was composer-in-residence at Pretoria University. At the time of his death he was completing a viola concerto.

* The others were Arnold van Wyk (1916-83) and Hubert du Plessis (1922-2011).

** This interview was published in Tempo, Vol. 61 no.240 (April 2007).


Dominic Daula is a student in composition at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town. Research interests include British music of the 20th century – particularly the music of John Ireland, Alan Bush, and Benjamin Britten; South African classical music of the 20th and 21st centuries; French Baroque music; and the music of Priaulx Rainier and Helen Perkin. Currently he is studying piano with Francois du Toit, harpsichord with Grant Bräsler, and composition with Martin Watt. 


New album with settings of Ingrid Jonker

Ernesto Marques (collector and donor of South African punk music to DOMUS at Stellenbosch University Music Library) collaborated with Simone Jonker (daughter of Ingrid Jonker) on an album with settings of Ingrid Jonker poems. For more information, please see the article in Die Burger.

South African music features in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine

Smithsonian Folkways Magazine commemorates twenty years of South African democracy, featuring music of South Africa in their latest issue:

• Cover Story: Anti-Apartheid Freedom Songs Then and Now – Tayo Jolaosho

• Archive Spotlight: Interview with Diane Thram – Meredith Holmgren & Diane Thram

• From the Field: “Proud of who I am”: Venda Children’s Musical Cultures – Andrea Emberly & Mudzunga Junniah Davhula

• Tools for Teaching: South Africa, Free At Last: The Freedom Songs of South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement in America – Stacy Malachowski

‘Nagmusiek’ by Stephanus Muller to be released in August


Nagmusiek by Stephanus Muller

“Nagmusiek is a startling addition to contemporary South African fiction and biography. The book is both a scholarly study of the Afrikaans composer Arnold van Wyk and a work of fiction in which the author/biographer—who is and is not Stephanus Muller—highjacks his own literary undertaking. It is an extraordinary meditation on the art of biography, on South African classical music under the apartheid regime, and on the complicated relationship between life and fiction. Van Wyk’s musical composition, for which this book is named, is a ‘modernist poem of loss, of pain, of flickering memory, of dignified death’. Muller sets out to explore Van Wyk’s work and in the process creates an epic and genre-defying work of his own.

This is an important book, a profoundly scholarly undertaking that will be a vital contribution to the field of Van Wyk studies in South Africa, but at the same time a groundbreaking work of experimental fiction.” – Fourthwall Books, 2014.


Launch dates and venues

Stellenbosch, Fismer Hall:
2 August, 7 pm
with a performance of Nagmusiek  by Daniel-Ben Pienaar

Cape Town:
5 August, 6 pm, venue TBC

7 August, 6 pm, Fourthwall Books, Braamfontein

Pretoria, Brooklyn Theatre:
9 August, 11 am
with a performance of Nagmusiek by Daniel-Ben Pienaar