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Thurs­day marks 50 years since Cape Town’s iconic District Six was de­clared a whites-only area, fol­lowed by forced re­movals. Mu­sic mae­stro David Kramer has cre­ated a new work, District Six – Kanala, to com­mem­o­rate the event that tore a com­mu­nity apart. vi

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he one thing ev­ery­one re­mem­bers about District Six is the mu­sic. How ev­ery­one would “lan­garm” at the Tafel­berg Ho­tel on the week­end. And there was some­thing about the al­leys and the side streets, and the de­fi­antly mul­ti­cul­tural na­ture of the place that seemed to birth tal­ented mu­si­cians like nowhere else. The Na­tional Party had to tear it down. Ev­ery­thing that District Six was, there on the slopes of the moun­tain, danc­ing in pen­cil skirts and slicked­back hair, proved that apartheid did not work.

It took the bull­doz­ers more than a decade to erase District Six com­pletely – well, to phys­i­cally erase it, flat­ten the build­ings, re­move the peo­ple, de­stroy the vi­brant com­mu­nity, break the bonds, split the ex­tended fam­i­lies up and scat­ter them to the wind. It will be 50 years ago on Thurs­day, on Fe­bru­ary 11 1966, that District Six was de­clared a whites-only area, and the forced re­movals be­gan, work which was only com­pleted by 1978, when the last build­ing was flat­tened and the area set­tled into “a haunt­ing”. Not even a haunt­ing, as David Kramer re­mem­bers.

“Liv­ing in Cape Town in the 80s, you didn’t hear any­one speak­ing about it. It was so painful ... It was very quiet. There was noth­ing about it.”

It is par­tially due to Kramer’s pi­o­neer­ing work with late fel­low mu­si­cian Tal­iep Petersen that District Six – The Mu­si­cal, this col­lec­tive mem­ory of the district, ex­ists. That now-leg­endary pro­duc­tion, mounted at the Bax­ter in 1986, was to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the dec­la­ra­tion, and now, here we are 30 years later, with Kramer about to stage District Six – Kanala, open­ing on the 50th an­niver­sary, in the district it­self at The Fu­gard Theatre.

Kanala is a trib­ute show with a strong en­sem­ble cast that fea­tures long­time Kramer col­lab­o­ra­tor Louk­maan Adams, as well as Bianca Le Grange, An­drea Frank­son and Carlo Daniels. Draw­ing from the Kramer/Petersen song­book, as well as new ma­te­rial, it is a se­ries of vi­gnettes told by a nar­ra­tor. As Kramer ex­plains, “Peo­ple would al­ways say, ‘Ag, just give me this kanala or just do this for me, kanala,’ which means ‘please’. So I just thought Kanala would be recog­nis­able. It’s the idea of talk about District Six. ‘Kanala ... like, District Six, please. Give us some­thing.’ So I’ve got this young girl say­ing when she was a kid she used to crawl on to her granny’s lap and her granny had this pho­to­graph al­bum with pho­to­graphs of her friends and the place. And her granny would tell her, ‘You know, my girl, you know who this was? This was so and so...’ And so she, as a child, learnt all the sto­ries around th­ese pic­tures. So she would crawl on her granny’s lap and say, ‘Granny, District Six, kanala.’”

I had al­ways imag­ined Kramer to be per­ma­nently pos­sessed of that slack­limbed Chap­linesque walk hard-coded into the men of early South African tele­vi­sion, a sort of Paul Slabolep­szy lope. In­stead, he skims across the dark floor of The Fu­gard lobby, his trade­mark lit­tle black hat neatly askew. For the whole morn­ing he’s been do­ing tech­ni­cal run-throughs, test­ing the light­ing against the pro­jec­tions of the im­ages that com­prise the grand­mother’s photo al­bum. It’s plain that he’s a per­fec­tion­ist.

“I wanted to put a show to­gether which, if you hadn’t been there, would il­lus­trate what the district looked like,” he ex­plains. “And if you did know District Six, then it would be nos­tal­gic. I’m telling it from a young per­son’s point of view. This grand­child of a woman who lived in District Six.”

The Fu­gard is housed in a church that was part of District Six, around the cor­ner from the District Six Mu­seum, where a huge ar­chive of life in the district is avail­able. It was dif­fer­ent when Kramer and Petersen wrote District Six – The Mu­si­cal.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing is how lit­tle there was,” says Kramer. “There was hardly any­thing in book form avail­able.” He pauses here to think. “It was 1986 ... It was a ter­ri­ble time be­cause it was the state of emer­gency. The coun­try was tense and go­ing up in flames ... I think that ini­tially we got white au­di­ences in and then, as peo­ple started to hear about it, it just took off ... like this is what they needed to re­live that thing. It was still so painful and fresh. It was an un­ex­pected re­ac­tion. And the mu­sic started that con­ver­sa­tion again...”

Kramer ex­plains his ap­proach to the Na­tional Party’s era­sure of his­to­ries like this: “Bar­ney Si­mon from The Mar­ket theatre used to al­ways say the theatre should be a liv­ing news­pa­per be­cause we had all that cen­sor­ship at the time and you didn’t know what was go­ing on in the town­ships un­less you went to a Mar­ket theatre pro­duc­tion. And I found that re­ally in­for­ma­tive and stim­u­lat­ing, and in some way they printed it in the back of my mind that we re­ally have to show this place that’s now be­ing de­stroyed in a way that will hope­fully speak to the peo­ple who lived there, be­cause if they ap­prove of it, then I don’t care what any­one else says.”

Kanala is also a trib­ute to Petersen, mur­dered in his home in 2006, a crime his wife Na­jwa Petersen was con­victed of mas­ter­mind­ing and was sen­tenced to 28 years in prison for. And it’s a trib­ute to many other peo­ple Kramer has worked with over the years, such as Salie Daniels, Cyril Valen­tine, Billy Jaftha, Dougie Schrikker, Al Hen­dricks and Zayn Adam, as well as Richard Rive and Vin­cent Kolbe.

“I met so many won­der­fully tal­ented peo­ple who have been de­nied ac­cess to the stage,” says Kramer, “and it was a great thrill and won­der­ful to be able to bring some of those tal­ents to the stage.”

It’s hard to fully grasp how dif­fer­ent the times were when Kramer started mak­ing mu­sic. Back in the 80s, for him to be cre­at­ing what we might now call Kaapse Afrikaans was heresy. But to white au­di­ences who op­posed the

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7 FE­BRU­ARY, 2016

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Edith Plaatjies (left) and Bianca Le Grange dur­ing re­hearsals for David Kramer’s new show, District Six – Kanala, at The

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