In August 2005 I found myself travelling on a Sunday afternoon from Cape Town International Airport making my way to the familiar Wembley road-house eatery in Athlone in a desperate need to find ‘koe-sisters’ and pies for a special gathering of the Eoan Group, a meeting I was meant to facilitate. Ruth Fourie an historic non-performing ‘grouper’ and also my mother had insisted on the eateries as part of an agenda that if we don’t engage both the Eoan Group veterans and the remnants of the organization who are still alive, the memory of their contribution, that moment of a golden age of singers so common in the experience of black people during apartheid in the fields of culture, education and sport, will be lost.
But this was close-to-home; literally and figuratively. It was Athlone where I was the UDF chair for this region of the Western Cape in the early to mid-80’s; Opera and classical music lover and frequent activist and organizer of resistance, through the 85/86 states of emergencies including, ironically, boycotter of the Eoan Group as an institution. I was on my way to that historically infamous building, the Joseph stone that had remained impervious to transformation even in the ‘new SA’.
Lionel Fourie (baritone) sings Rigolleto’s aria ‘Pari Siamo’ from Eoan’s 1960 production of Rigoletto by Giuseppi Verdi. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra is conducted by Joseph Manca. 3’15” This bootleg recording was made during a live performance in the Cape Town City Hall. In 2000 the recording was restored by GSE Recordings in Claremont and issued as a commercial CD.
But it was also about being the son of Lionel Fourie, Rigoletto of the Eoan and his famous band of singers and with hindsight a remarkable generation of multitalented and multifaceted individuals who took on Italian Opera and succeeded.
The workshop of the Groupers (as they were called) that day spoke to difficult aspects that confront ordinary people having to tell their stories, in their own terms of the Apartheid experience.
The internecine aftermath of organizations in post-Apartheid that became invested in a narrative for their own vested interests and resisting transformation towards opening up, unpacking sometimes painful memories and stories; in this case the Groupers had been requesting for a number of years that the archives and documents be opened up in order to constitutionally re-engage the organization and transform it through an AGM and re-launch. They had gathered to confront the current leadership and Eoan Group Trust and wanted self-ownership of their memories and history and to table what is possible in the ‘new South Africa’.
In the 2000’s one is happy to see there has been an explosion of “My story” histories and literature uncovering social, cultural and artistic and sporting experiences of black people during Apartheid. These dilemmas have however remained buried in various forms: many narratives have emerged not from the historical subjects themselves but have simply been imposed on the public domain through secondary sources: many have been compromised versions of the histories; some have involved the subjects in varying ways, positive or negative.
It was a propitious moment when around June 2008 the Trust and Board agreed to a partnership with the University of Stellenbosch’s Documentation Centre For Music (DOMUS) so that at least the chronology and history could be told of the group in Opera, Ballet and dance performance. The handover of the documents which took place that typical windy Cape Town afternoon precipitated the project with Stellenbosch under the department of Music in 2008/9 which led to the publication of the oral history Eoan – Our story in 2013 to great acclaim. This oral history project indeed triggered a re-engagement with the past; “of how the South African past is negotiated, claimed, used, contested and eventually written by South Africans….” [introduction: page xv…Eoan – Our Story]
The La Traviata Affair is a book born out of this overall ‘Story’. The oral history project also led to An Inconsolable Memory, a documentary film produced by Aryan Kaganof which captures profoundly the dilemmas of the experience and choices available to the Groupers.
The subtitle of Roos’ book; Opera in the Age of Apartheid is meant to be a complementary output on the evolution of the Eoan and its different phases. I am also glad that a formal history was written around the Eoan Group from one of the coordinators of the oral history project, Hilde Roos. In this post-modern period an almost obsessive focus on social and cultural identity and the digital over-communications of imagery, media we sometimes squeamishly avoid the historical truth of the Apartheid experience.
What’s the Book About
Hilde Roos has written an institutional and cultural history of an organization that was launched and started by Helen Southern-Holt in District Six, in the 1930s that became associated with the coloured community if not type-cast as a ‘coloured’ organization until its specific decline in the early 80’s. The Eoan Group (meaning “the Dawn”) with its byline “we live to serve” was associated with benign support and upliftment of the Coloured community through the Arts. The book is a detailed chronology and narrative of the internal developments, its personae dramatis and evolution within the public realm of largely the Cape and later the country as it became famous for its Italian Opera and Ballet. Its hey-day was really between 1956 and 1963 which coincided with the build- up of grand Apartheid until the period of repression from the 60’s onwards. It continued to perform throughout this period until it became completely ‘persona non-grata’ from within the coloured community by the early 1980’s.
The book is thus more of an historical account than a musicological survey (even though it raises many musicological issues) of the Eoan Group and its performance of Italian Opera; in navigating its existence in the era of Grand Apartheid.
It also uses as metaphor out of the canon of Italian Opera, La Traviata (‘the fallen one’) , from Verdi’s middle period: the “La Traviata” affair is meant to represent the decline of the Eoan Group as the courtesan’s tragic life did through the trajectory of the original Opera as a result of both internal and external factors.
The book tabulates the phases of the Eoan Group around its chapters in the following way:
The Introduction: surveys the contextual and theoretical issues surrounding a narrative of the Eoan and especially in the context of coloured identity.
Chapter 1: covers the origins and establishment of the Eoan Group during the war years up to the middle 50’s
Chapter 2: captures the first flush of success and recognition for its Italian Opera performance in the 1956/7 years shifting its path on a new trajectory as a performing company;
Chapter 3: surveys perhaps the heyday of the Eoan Group as a performing arts Company with mainly Italian Opera and Ballet between 1956/7-63
Chapter 4: Charts the struggle of the Eoan to retain its positioning and internal coherence between 1963-72.
Chapter 5: Charts the slow decline of the Group between 1972-1980
The Significance of the Book
How should we contextualize and characterize this account? Following on the Eoan Oral History project it is a welcome attempt to construct and analyze the evolution of the Group. Beyond the individual experiential reflections of the Groupers which respond to some of the questions as to why, when and how Italian Opera (and ballet) became a thing to do in the coloured community, it had to interrogate the underlying drivers of both its successes and eventual decline given both the external and internal historical and cultural factors. Whether it does so rigorously and cogently notwithstanding the fragmented documentation is part of the ambit of this review. I got the feeling that in many ways it doesn’t always rise above the oral history project narrative; at the same time, it is a solid and detailed chronology of the Group in its time and place. The book is of interest to all students, musicians, policymakers, historians and parties interested in the evolution of the coloured community and identity issues in culture and performance not least the politics during the Apartheid era.
I find it significant that even in a new generation of musicians from the Cape Flats in 2019, fiercely aware of his history and context, born and raised in Strandfontein on “the coloured” side of Cape Town, Benjamin Jephta, jazz bassist and band leader who is completing a masters on the origins of Music on the Cape Flats and the coloured community: “Born Coloured : Not Born free and musical identity”; has focused on this relationship between identity and music-making. It points to the fact that these historical and identity issues have not gone away in music-making as the new South African evolution takes its twists and turns. This book is thus also a welcome opportunity to pursue critical questions of culture and identity in music and performance during Apartheid and how this legacy and history should be interrogated and understood while remaining a ‘work-in- progress’ and of necessity incomplete; even now in a highly globalized, digitalized and connected world.
Eoan’s History and Evolution
The La Traviata Affair is well constructed around the events and times of the Group in all its developments. In terms of the production of Italian opera it also provides as close as possible a reflection on the key issues as it navigates four elements in its history namely;
The inaugural period when it was a humanitarian organisation under the directorship of Helen Southern-Holt and focused on upliftment programmes especially ‘elocution’ from during the War years to the middle 50’s;
The hey-day period when it became known mostly as an Italian Opera Performance company with the key Opera and ballet seasons which were universally acclaimed under the leadership of Dr Manca and Mr. Sydow;
An Apartheid negotiated era which involved internal institutional changes (which involved the Eoan Trust) and the forcing of Apartheid strictures and funding on the Eoan group between 1964-71;
A period of decline institutionally and musically in the period between 1972-1980.
In the detailing of these components across the phases of the Eoan, I am not sure if the title and metaphor of a specifically cherished Opera of the Eoan (and Verdi himself) works to illustrate the narrative? La Traviata based on Alexandre’s Dumas La Dame aux camelias translates roughly as “the fallen one” was also a favourite of Joseph Manca’s and the Groupers which built the acclaimed reputation of both the pre 1963 and post ’63 generation of performers. It was also the last full-length opera performed by the Eoan. There remains however something contrived and too neat about it as Violetta ends up ignominiously dead in Act three though the decline of Violetta probably mirrors the slow death in both performance and reputation of the Eoan Group.
This trajectory is however cogently captured, and the themes well illustrated. I am left with the question though in viewing the organization accurately over 30 years whether we don’t really have two different organizations even if the name has remained the same.
The Eoan before 1963 remained largely voluntary and was not dependent on funding from Government and the Department of Coloured Affairs, played to largely non-racial audiences and raised its own funding: notwithstanding the NEUM and SACPO engagements around its role and function under the leadership of Dr Manca at the time.
The Eoan after 1963 had established a Trust prior to the establishment of Performance Arts Councils (PAC’s) initially to raise funds and was thereafter forced to take funding from the Department of Coloured Affairs; was removed from the City Hall and granted a building (the Joseph Stone) on the Cape flats; was forced eventually to play to segregated audiences. This emerged with the simultaneous establishment of the Nico Malan Theater which essentially competed with the operatic and ballet traditions of the Eoan Group.
I think the break between these phases is perhaps inadequately analyzed and perhaps the notion of a very different organization being narrated about post-1963 is probably more in line with so many political-institutional, organizational, legislative changes taking real effect, as a result of the Grand Apartheid line of march. Coming after Sharpeville and taking place during the period of Apartheid repression this phase is defined specifically around how the Coloured, Indian and black African communities were governed, regulated and controlled and the thus the cultural and social effects of this new regime on the cultural traditions and institutions.
The book interweaves the emerging apartheid episodes in the Eoan story but doesn’t integrate it into the overall narrative to be able to tabulate effectively the sheer magnitude of the impact of, for example, the Group Areas Act; the Populations Registration Act; the Separate Education Act, on the both the Group’s and its audience’s trajectory.
Many community, social, sporting, religious and cultural organizations were confronted with the effects of Apartheid legislation and thus how to navigate one’s institutional role, mandate and integrity was a major issue for the Coloured and black African communities’ leaderships. This is reflected in a series of public debates and revelations in the media (The Burger and the Cape Herald) of the 70’s within the coloured community. This perhaps required more attention as an external backdrop to the Eoan’s existence in the post 1963 period.
The internal evolution of the Group is well captured in the book by the choice to focus on Dr. Manca and the duality of his love for Italian Opera mixed-up with a sort of overinflated sense of his capability together with his deep ambition that he could lead and retain the making of an indigenous opera Company single handedly in both pre- and post- Grand Apartheid. Dr Manca did obviously suppress a conversation about music-making and Apartheid as Roos highlights. The negotiations and engagement with the Department of Coloured Affairs, the Erika Theron Commission of Enquiry into Matters relating to the Coloured Population Group, and funding of the Group, happens only with the Sydows without discussion with the rest of the Groupers. There is mention of and allusion to critical discussion around the future with the Groupers just before and after the 1960 Anti-Apartheid demonstrations but there are no records of this. Many groupers such as Ruth Goodwin decided to withdraw in this context as is captured by Roos.
That there was a brief ‘second-wind’ the Eoan group received with the brief tenure of Gordon Jephtas and last loyalists such as May Abrahamse and Vera Gow remaining in the 70’s, together with the first and last international tour with its tragic consequences, is also well illustrated. This section further shows the Group’s decline and that the Groupers could not resolve the internal contradictions of compromised funding, dwindling legitimacy from the coloured community and decline of the positioning of Italian Opera as an art form.
When does one mark the final decline of the Eoan group? Probably the historic failure of the first international tour and subsequent resignations of the Sydow’s together with the exposure of the internal workings of the core Eoan Group by the letters of Gordon Jephthas in the Cape Herald in the late 70’s around its identity and negative association with coloured cooption.
Music Making as Opera
Hilde Roos illustrates well the rise of the Italian Opera performance fame and acclaim of the Groupers especially in the hey-day phase before 1963/64; from both the coloured community and Capetonians at large. The key luminaries at the time through successful festivals were really like matinee idols and popular performing celebrities as much as we have had in other music genres emanating from District Six and the coloured community. The book captures this acclaim effectively and the sense of pride this reflected even if many did not attend concerts or performances. The production of the first full length Opera (La Traviata) was a tour-de-force and between 1956 and 1963/64 they also developed a broader national audience and support base for exemple in JHB, PE and Durban and was the only national Opera performing company before the Performing Arts Councils of the mid to late 60’s under grand Apartheid.
There are two photos that illustrate a defining moment in the music making profile of the Group.
One on page 88: fig: 3.4 that I call “the diva’s pic” of that generation of vocalists which captures all the female stars of the Eoan Group:
Abeeda Parker (soprano) sings Violetta’s aria ‘Sempre Libra’ from Eoan’s 1962 production of La Traviata by Giuseppi Verdi. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra is conducted by Joseph Manca. (4’22”) This bootleg recording was made during a performance in the Cape Town City Hall.
Ruth Goodwin (soprano) sings Gilda’s aria ‘Caro Nome’ from Eoan’s 1960 production of Rigoletto by Giuseppi Verdi. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra is conducted by Joseph Manca. 6’16” This bootleg recording was made during a live performance in the Cape Town City Hall. In 2000 the recording was restored by GSE Recordings in Claremont and issued as a commercial CD.
Second on page 76 fig: 3.2 of all the Eoan luminaries outside of the Port Elizabeth City Hall.
Visually they define a distinct age and a moment in time before Grand-Apartheid when you had “coloured celebrities” in an art form that was European before ‘South African whites’ came into it; across audiences of all ethnicities who were attracted to Italian Opera. Interwoven within the book’s narrative are reviews of the musical performance of these stars, their capability and impact. There remains a duality: on the one side there is a critical voice pointing to the unschooled and amateurish nature of performances and voice training not least the orchestras; on the other side the sheer latent talent demonstrated over many years of full-length Opera’s performance. This dilemma is well illustrated in the book given that actual recordings (of which there are existing un-reviewed reel to reel tapes of performances), are not available for the reader to listen to.
There is however no reason to doubt the luminaries’ talent given the accolades for that generation of Eoan performer from the very knowledgeable commentators and reviewers that Roos refers to. This was a remarkable golden era of raw talent, in particular the principal female mezzos, sopranos and contraltos during this period. This was the case of course with the emergence of Apartheid in all fields, sporting, social, academic, intellectual and artistic endeavors for people of colour in SA. What is also well narrated are the ambitions and dreams of the principal singers as charted while the South African body politic shifts fundamentally: Joe Gabriel’s migration to Johannesburg and Milan or the longevity of May Abrahamse and Sophia Andrews negotiating difficult circumstances during the 70’s.
Gordon Jephtas, who is meant to succeed Manca as director of the Eoan who settles abroad and becomes a successful repetiteur with Opera houses in America and Europe, historically the critical register of the Eoan group’s positioning, is also well captured especially when he undertakes to return to the group as Artistic director with an emphasis to deemphasize Italian Opera and focus on signing, ballet and drama given that the hey-day has gone. He also begins to question the artistic position of the Groupers and the Coloured association and connotations of the Group in the Apartheid context.
Coloured Identity, Music Making and the Group
A core element of the book has to do with the conceptualization and experience of the coloured community and its identity as a group in relationship with the Eoan Group. The Introduction surveys the key concept of ‘identity’ of the community and the way music-making happened, leaning towards Italian Opera. Roos depends on the broad approach that the coloured community was shaped by four sociological drivers as defined by the work of Mohamed Adhikari namely:
The intermediate status of the Coloured community as existing “between white and black”:
The desire for assimilation and acceptance into white/ European society at large as a colonial/ post-colonial phenomenon:
Aspiration to be part of power structures of elites and the powerful:
Coloured identity became the bearer of negative physical and social connotations.
This paradigm is deployed to illustrate the factors defining the Group’s direction including inter alia: why Italian Opera?; the dependence on Manca as a father figure over the period, the general acceptance of some paternalism towards the members and the designation of “coloured” as a stereotype on the group, not least the avoidance of the politics of the day.
Part of the problem is that within the conceptual use of the 4-driver approach it is deployed ahistorically, notwithstanding that there are other approaches to identity and coloured identity that are mentioned by Roos.
Space doesn’t permit us to sketch a detailed critique of this approach, but these drivers in and of themselves do not act as immutable determinants around how and why the Eoan Group as an organization across decades into the 80’s becomes typecast as “coloured” and aspirational to the European white culture. As a general historical fact “coloured identity” as a category, as distinct from the coloured community, as distinct from a legal-juridical definition of coloured, emerges as much from the external, endogenous developments within South African society, governance and power, as from the subjective and internal acceptance/resistance and engagement with this shaping of linguistic, cultural and social factors, over time. Many commentators don’t sufficiently interrogate the interplay of this historic evolution (including up to the cultural revolution of 1976 and Black Consciousness across the coloured community leading into the 80’s resistance period) for the shaping of coloured identity. This defines both the distinctive evolution of a “coloured identity” as being in flux and its commonalties/articulation with the re-emergence of other South African ethnic identities with the emergence of Grand Apartheid within the Nguni or SeSotho/SeTswana traditions or other South African cultures.
The attraction to Italian Opera singing and performance is better rooted in the explosion and revival of European art forms globally (of which I include the Soviet Union) which included Jazz, after the Second World War. It was part liberating and part aspirational to connect with these new trends. Jazz was for example actually deliberately propagated and marketed by the USA as part of an American dream narrative up to the early 60’s. Alex la Guma’s novel A walk in the night cites thematically the love of classical music , i.e. Chopin’s Prelude in E, in the cultural fabric of the District.
Specifically, the attraction to Opera was found in the traditions of vocalizing and choral singing from the late 19th century and early 20th century which articulated with a vibrant and new art form in Verdi, Puccini and the likes. There was also very little distinction made in the Groupers’ generation between: i.e. jazz music and classical/opera as experiences of musical appreciation. The key to this was the growing class stratification and urbanization as communities became more settled across South Africa from Soweto to District Six, yearning for new global cultural experiences and trends; the phenomenon of a piano in every home and having albums by Maria Callas as well as Thelonious Monk were thus equally liberating for that generation. This is echoed by Abdullah Ebrahim or Pat Matshikisa as much as by Vincent Kolbe in Gwen Ansell’s Soweto Blues.
This was not about an aspiration to being white or a need to be European in that sense. There was also a hunger to simply express talent and to succeed from a growing, urbanized, settled strata of South Africans which evolves into urbanized middle- and working-class strata. These strata: from “Malay camps” and black spots, peri-urban districts such as District Six, in transition from rural to urban, are a critical determinant in the evolution of the rich and eclectic tastes of South Africans at the time. In this context underscoring the distinction between pre-1963 and post -1963 developments is critical in understanding the Group’s evolution with the articulation of a “Coloured identity”. From the oral history book Eoan – Our Story and many experiential interactions with that generation of Groupers it is clear that they embraced a variety of art forms from Pop to so called high-brow western music.
Another way of illustrating this is the emergence of the African-American community in the post WWII period and their rapid adoption of European musical forms though learning to adapt and deploy it against racism on behalf of the US civil rights movement. Marion Anderson, Paul Robeson and subsequent black American artists in the absence of grand apartheid strictures adopted, adapted and owned Opera and classical music as an art form notwithstanding the simultaneous evolution of Bebop and post Bebop jazz traditions in the 50’s and 60’s.
I find there is also an uncomfortable and awkward juxtaposition of the history of the SA jazz narrative such as the musical King Kong with the history of the Eoan Group in the book which leaves the impression that this jazz trajectory is somehow more relevant or pertinent to SA history and the traditions of anti-Apartheid resistance and thus just illustrates the stereo-type coloured elitist trend of wanting to be European or Western. In the absence of a musicological theorization for SA, there is no plausible connection made between the two traditions other than chronologic synchronization and is thus a weakness in the book.
The Eoan Group and Politics
A major theme of the book is of course the politics in the evolution of SA from Segregation to Apartheid and the Eoan Group. Roos captures well the Group navigating its role and legitimacy within the coloured community and the emergence of Grand Apartheid. The Eoan’s hey-day does take place during the changes from segregation to Apartheid and the political super structure and body politic as much the anti-apartheid resistance politics, shaped its evolution.
On the civil society side from the beginning there was an ambivalence around the Eoan Group from the emergent anti-apartheid resistance organizations in SA; in particular from within the NEUM, the Torch and SACPO around three dimensions:
The sources of the funding and financial support for the Eoan Group that comprised its mandate such as the DCA and the Apartheid state;
The playing to segregated audiences;
The exclusivity of coloured membership;
Again, the picture around these dimensions relate to the pre-1963 and the post-1963 periods.
It is interesting that there was a strong perception that inter alia, during the Group Areas, Populations Registration and Separate Education Act promulgation, the Eoan Group was receiving funding from the DCA. It is a revelation that it was only the case after the changes to the structure in 1963/64 to the Eoan Group and the creation of the Eoan Trust and the requirements to move from the City hall (after three decades) that it begins to make itself dependent on the DCA. As I indicated above this is a critical moment of change because it does begin to play to segregated audiences and begin to take on a reluctant mantle of a ‘coloured’ organization. Within the NEUM political tradition there was from 1957/8 an early media engagement and political attack on its existence but this seems not to have a major impact until much later from the mid -60’s on.
On the side of the state there is perhaps insufficient interrogation of how the Apartheid Government formulated and implemented a strategy around the Coloured community and its cultural and sporting organizations. This process was a far more tactical and nuanced in the way ID du Plessis and the regime both had to hegemonize the process of ‘colouredisation’ of communities and their institutions. This was a gradual process because the coloured community’s future was meant to be positioned as a secondary partner to ‘white’ Apartheid and I think the Eoan Group was allowed a ‘long rope’ given that the state had to establish the enabling conditions such as the destruction of District Six and the creation of the Cape Flats townships which the group was eventually moved to, before bringing down the axe. I think the dual process of co-option and destruction is alluded to but could have been integrated more within the Group’s narrative.
In the post-1963 period there appears to be an almost a schizophrenic separation of politics from culture and artistic performance within the Group. This is largely due to Manca’s manipulation of the debates, the management of its core relationships to government and agencies. Roos captures this well in the narrative.
It became a tragic scenario in the 70’s when the revelations emerged in the media through the Cape Herald around the stifling of debates around Apartheid and the credibility of Group within the Cape flats community while there was still a keen repository of talent flowing through the Group. There had been final Seasons of Performance involving both veterans and new talent which became more and more controversial by the early 70’s. The Group had continued to field opera and ballet seasons at great cost to its credibility and legitimacy. Roos devotes critical space to this turning point which signals the beginning of the end of the Group.
This period of the evolution of the Eoan also mirrors a massive shift in the politics within the coloured community : namely, those who decided to adapt and live within the Apartheid state strictures accepting their ‘coloured’ status and funding thereto and those who remained completely outside of the system institutionally and socially-to the extent that this was possible. This separation between a reformist vs a radical politics (without naming any specific political organization and tradition) was pervasive across institutional, sporting and cultural areas of the Coloured, Indian and black African communities. This context is not properly unpacked by Roos; though not documented within the Eoan materials there is significant oral and social history of this backdrop which must have been a powerful factor within the changing debates and issues raised during this period.
A non-cultural example in the coloured community is sport, specifically rugby with SACOS (The South African Council on Sport) representing the ‘radical’ trajectory: we had the emergence of two separate traditions of Rugby playing – those within the apartheid state rugby fraternity and those rejecting it which split the sporting code for decades across families, localities and leaderships until after the negotiated settlement was arrived at in 1994. This was the case too with music-making and cultural performance in all genres across the coloured community even if not as dramatic as the Rugby sporting code.
One of the consequences of this was that after two decades of Grand Apartheid, classical ballet, opera and Western classical music within the coloured community was associated with a ‘reformist’ and Apartheid collaboration tradition and path. Indeed, part of sustaining the international cultural and sporting boycotts of South Africa was to isolate the Apartheid state at the time and pressurize for change and negotiations around a new democratic dispensation for SA. This raises in sharp relief the implications and effects of the 1975 international tour the Eoan Group made to the UK given the schizophrenic location of the politics of the day within its midst.
Roos narrates well the choking and destruction of the Eoan Group as a performing arts institution “of a special type” once it had moved to the Joseph Stone and attempts to survive on the Cape Flats when it had to compete with the new PAC’s and the Nico Malan theater. She doesn’t necessarily devote space to the destruction of the indigenous talent and performing arts indigenous traditions as a result of the Apartheid positioning of the performing arts through the Eoan group within coloured communities. This had massive consequences for the destruction of indigenous latent talent from all the communities across the Cape.
As a final pointer I think it is not elaborated on enough that tragically the Joseph Stone and thus the Eoan Group became a reviled symbol of what Apartheid delivered and achieved, for a new generation from the Cape, notwithstanding a new generation of talented artists that bridged this period into the post-Apartheid phase. There was at times both an explicit and implicit boycott of the Group from many amateur, school, cultural, social leaders and institutions, right through the 70’s and 80’s of which from media and experiential accounts was significant and impactful on the Eoan Group’s credibility with coloured audiences. It would have been useful to test this from role-players and the remaining Groupers more rigorously during this period.
Endings and New Beginnings
I return to that day in August 2005 when the remaining Eoan veterans in the post-Mandela period attempted to recover its own history and interrogate how and why the Eoan Group declined so drastically and thus the need to write up its own history, which led to the partnership with Stellenbosch University and the eventual oral history from which this book emerges. There was a time in the post-1990 period when there were attempts to undertake a transformation and re-positioning of the Eoan Group; prior to the Oral History book (Eoan – Our Story) there was a strong resistance to this from the remnants of the Eoan Group around re-writing the full history effectively.
This itself reflected the dilemmas and difficulties in confronting and negotiating the past and modes of transformation required. This book is a welcome beginning to a new age of more accurate reflection on what happened in our communities in particular the Coloured community and its cultural institutions and traditions; what our real histories are and what impact does it have on the present not-so-new SA. The dual strategy of Cooption and Destruction of the Eoan Group and associated cultural and sporting structures within a Coloured strategic framework of the Apartheid regime, succeed in decimating an evolving and authentic Opera and Classical music performance tradition and talent that is not acknowledged sufficiently today.
Martin Johnson (tenor) sings Lt. Joseph Cable ‘Younger than Springtime’ in Eoan’s 1968 production of South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra is conducted by Joseph Manca. 3’00” This bootleg recording was made during a performance in either the (now demolished) Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town or the Luxerama in Wynberg. The recording was later issued on a 7-inch LP by Feature Film Sound.
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