D6 music ‘keeps you hopping’

2016-02-23 06:00
Dave van Niekerk with a photo of the Paramount Dixies Rhythm Band.

Dave van Niekerk with a photo of the Paramount Dixies Rhythm Band.

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“You see, the District Six music, it soothes your soul.”

Dave van Niekerk knows all about the music of the area – in his heyday, he appeared on stages around District Six as the drummer for the Paramount Dixies Rhythm Band.

Now in his 80s, “Oupa” as he is affectionately known, is keeping the spirit of District Six alive by taking its sounds around the world.

“You can’t resist the music,” Oupa says. “The rhythm, the beat – it’s so fantastic, it keeps you hopping.”

This year marks the 50th since the start of the forced removals from District Six. Oupa is one of a few people who have been able to move back to the area. Against the soundtrack of his favourite Sammy Witbooi cassette, Oupa settles into his seat in his home in Pontac Street to share some of his memories.

Oupa’s late father was an all-round musician. Music, and all things creative, seem to run in the family. Naturally Oupa and his brother Matt picked up instruments and played together for the Paramount Dixies. When he wasn’t playing with his own band he was on stage helping other acts.

“Music was all around District Six,” he recalls. “If you didn’t hear it in the streets, you heard it in the houses or the halls.”

Besides performances at local weddings and dance halls, the Paramount Dixies often played at old age homes and even entertained the patients at Valkenberg Hospital. “It boosts their morale,” he says of these special shows.

“When you go play at Valkenberg, you take it for granted that these people are ‘looney tuney’ – but let me tell you – each tune we played, the steps were there.”

Oupa fondly recalls having to perform “Hasie” three times in one show because it was a favourite among the patients.

The group often arranged outings, taking their fans with them when they went on tour. They’d travel in trucks, which were more reliable than buses, but meant they’d have to travel without bathroom breaks as truck drivers weren’t allowed to drive through the night.

Oupa made a lot of memories on the road.

“Going with the band and travelling places was so fantastic, you know, we met a lot of people.”

Back home he recalls the gangs: the Globes and the Jesters.

“They used to fight under themselves; they didn’t worry about me and you.”

The Paramount Dixies would give them demos at the swimming baths before they came to watch their shows.

The shows were often at one of the many theatres in the District. Oupa was fond of the Star Bioscope which he says showed all the film stars from abroad.

“If you wanted to know if you can sing or dance: if you pass out at the Star Bioscope, you’re tops.” Sitting downstairs, under the balcony at the theatre wasn’t an option.

“You must sit deep in, otherwise the mob upstairs, they sommer wee on you.”

During the day he could sometimes be found near Buchannan Square, which used to be a sweets factory.

“We’d stand in Francis Street and they’d throw the sweets down.”

While the band members were separated with the forced removals, they would still get together occasionally to play in their backyards. “The music goes on.”

Oupa even travelled to New Zealand to share the music of District Six. He points out that the New Zealanders have always been supportive of musicians from the District since being exposed to it through District Six: The Musical.

“There’s something about District Six music and its vibe: you can’t sit on your noodle, you must shake your booty.”

Oupa urges parents to share their culture and music with their children so that the music can live on in future generations.

“The unity, the passion, the love for each other…” this is how Oupa remembers the spirit of District Six. V Capetonians can experience this spirit with David Kramer’s new musical District Six - Kanala at the Fugard Theatre until Sunday 22 May. Tickets are available at Computicket. WIN! WIN! WIN! V Ten readers can each win a set of double tickets to the matinee performances of District Six - Kanala with their grandparents on Saturday 5 or Sunday 6 March. To win tickets SMS the word “Saturday” or “Sunday” followed by your name and email address to 45527. SMSes cost R1.50.

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