A musical ethnography of the Kaapse Klopse carnival in Cape Town, South Africa

  • Jonathan Gregory

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research explores the interplay between culture and politics from a musical ethnography of the Kaapse Klopse carnival in Cape Town, South Africa. This cultural expression can be traced to colonial slavery when Cape slaves were given a day off on 2 January. Since the early 20th century, carnival troupes have gathered in football stadiums as a medium of socialisation to perform and compete against each other for trophies, profit, status, and bragging rights. The research is divided into four parts. In the first part, I discuss the impact of violence in township areas, the locus of carnival and where the majority of participants live, where I examine the role of carnival in the mitigation of physical and emotional distress, and the legacy of klopse music as symptoms of deeper divisions rather than historical imperatives. In part two, I discuss the functions and characteristics of klopse competitions, seeking to understand the reward scheme, motives and strategies for enticing players, as well as the effects of winning and losing, team work and pride on the individual and group. Part three focuses on the more negative aspects of competition, drawing on notions of persuasion, control and manipulation, as well as empirical discussion of how individuals compete for positions of power and status, and on how their quest for success in carnival reflects their position in the formal economy. Finally, in the last part, I examine the music of the Kaapse Klopse and explore its place within a rapidly changing South Africa, in which carnival and the political mainstream are moving in opposite directions, focusing on notions of ethnicity, entrainment, and solidarity, and the effects of power and money on the social field. Specifically, I use Durkheim's concept of collective consciousness to explain how the conscience collective is imperative to establishing moral order and the continuity of parades and competitions.
Date of AwardMar 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsCAPES Foundation, Ministry of Education
SupervisorFiona Magowan (Supervisor) & Ioannis Tsioulakis (Supervisor)


  • klopse
  • carnival
  • anthropology
  • ethnomusicology

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