‘The carnival is part of our heritage and should be celebrated’
IT’S IN his blood, says Desmond Dawson, and that’s why he’s been coming back annually for 25 years to participate in the Minstrels Carnival.
The 48-year-old from Surrey Estate was in his early teens when he first joined the carnival, and has since been part of a number of different troupes, including the Glamour Boys and Bo-kaap Entertainers.
A member of the Santam D6 Entertainers – the reigning Carnival Kings – he says they’ll be going all- out on Tweede Nuwe Jaar on Monday to retain their crown.
“Winning last year’s competition was one of the proudest moments of my life,” he says.
“The feeling of taking to the stage with your troupe, and doing them proud and entertaining the crowds, is unbelievable. The only thing that could beat the feeling of winning this year’s Carnival Kings would be doing it again for 2012.”
A troupe singer, Dawson says his favourite part of the carnival is coming up with new comic songs which reflect his Cape Malay heritage – but he also loves performing.
“It takes months of preparation and practice,” he reveals.
The new songs must be innovative and unique.
“Seeing your song move from a page to the roaring applause of the crowd is the greatest reward.”
Discussing the growth of the minstrels, Dawson says the evolution of the annual event that is almost as much a part of Cape Town as Table Mountain, has been “unbelievable”.
“As the years went on, more troupes appeared, along with new styles to add to such an already vibrant atmosphere.
“In the past, people said the minstrels were just for gangsters. But that myth has disappeared and you see everyone joining in the fun. The minstrels are a part of our heritage, not only as Cape Malays, but as Capetonians, and should be celebrated as such.”
He adds that he’s tried to pass on the legacy to his children, with somewhat limited results, he admits.
“As for me, I’ll keep on competing as long as I can,” he says.
“And I know we’ll see the Minstrels Carnival continue to grow for years to come.”
ADDING COLOUR: Santam D6 Entertainers member Riyaad Peters paints the face of Suleiman Coert before a practice run for the Minstrels Carnival.
VETERAN: Singer Desmond Dawson has been involved in the Cape Town Minstrels Carnival for more than 25 years. The vibrant atmosphere and the carnival’s importance in his heritage have him coming back year after year.