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Witness
The Silver Fez
In the Cape Town slums men with melodic voices sing for the Silver Fez trophy.
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2009 12:47 GMT

Watch part two

Filmmaker: Lloyd Ross  

In the poverty-ridden Cape flats slum area just outside of Cape Town, 50 Malay choirs are practising for battle in the annual Silver Fez singing competition.

Turning aside from the drugs and crime so rampant in the area, the members of each choir must combine military-like discipline with harmonic song in order to stand a chance of winning the coveted Silver Fez.

The Continentals singing troupe are debutants at the Silver Fez game and are captained by Kaatjie Davids, a house painter. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and determination.

The Starlites are the competition's favourites. They are captained by the rich businessman, Hadji Bucks. They are also the former year's champions.

As the competition heats up, the David and Goliath battle between Kaatjie Davids and Hadji Bucks gets personal.

This intense rivalry takes place amid the haunting beauty of the Nederlandse songs, sad old songs that arrived in the Cape on slave ships. The sound of ancient Java and Sumatra married to elements of Western music.

These songs form the high point of the Silver Fez competition, and illustrate the cultural soul of Cape Town. This is what drives these men to spend a good deal of their free time each year competing for the Silver Fez trophy.  

For Kaatjie, the winning of the Silver Fez is not the be all and end all. For him, the brotherhood and communion with his culture is more important, keeping at bay the forces of darkness that stalk the squalid neighbourhoods many of his singers come from. For Hadji Bucks, winning is everything - and he has the riches and resources to pull in top trainers to knock his choir in to fighting shape.

But perhaps this could be Kaatjie's year. The prodigal Boeta Waani, a top Malay musician who is unemployed and with a family of eight to feed, has returned to Kaatjie's choir. This could be the boost Kaatjie needs to defeat his erstwhile rival Hadji Bucks. Rehearsals have begun, the vibe is up and the intent is victory and revenge.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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