Tattoo steps to different drummer

2012-07-11 00:00

A 400-YEAR-OLD tradition of summoning boozy soldiers home to the sound of beating drums gets a contemporary lift in Durban tonight.

One major difference will be the relative absence of intoxicated soldiers — but the abundance of drums promises to more than make up for them when the KZN Military Tattoo opens for its annual three-night run at Natal Mounted Rifles Parade Ground.

The revived event, which had life breathed into it in 2008, is a display of the military’s musical and cultural side and showcases a variety of marching bands.

The parades are a visual spectacle, too, with fireworks and parachutists adding to the spectacle.

Staff sergeant Johann Kruger said yesterday everything had been planned to “military” precision. “Everything is in perfect order,” said Kruger.

Military tattoos are popular worldwide and Durban’s own version has its roots in the parades of the 1980s.

But their history dates back more than four centuries when mercenary troops from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland under the federal command of the Dutch States Army would while away their time getting drunk in taverns.

Kruger said drummers were dispatched to call the soldiers back to barracks at 9.30 pm and would play their instruments until the 10 pm curfew.

“The process was known as ‘doe den tap toe’ [which means ‘turn off the tap’ in Dutch], an instruction to innkeepers to stop serving beer and send the soldiers home for the night.”

From this the word tattoo (tap toe) emerged, giving the world the more sober rendition of military drumming known today.

One of the highlights at this year’s event is a one-off show tomorrow evening by the UK’s Royal Hospital School Band.

There are two shows each night at 5 pm and 8 pm and tickets at Computicket cost R60 for children under 12 and R80 for adults.

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