Symphony: Daar Kom die Alibama (2010) by Kevin Volans

Note by the composer

There is a South African song called Daar Kom die Alibama (see words of song below with translation). It is one of the most extraordinary pieces of cross-cultural music I have come across. It was written in Africa in1863 in the British colony of Cape of Good Hope, by members of the Cape Malay community, in Afrikaans (a language of Dutch origin) about the arrival of the Confederate warship, the Alabama, in Table Bay, Capetown. The Cape Malays, who became known as 'Cape Coloureds' were descendants of Malayan and Indonesian slaves and political prisoners, who by this time were often of mixed race, having intermarried with both European and sometimes Khoi, Griqua and other indigenous peoples.

According to the Cape Malay Choir Board website

"In July, 1863 Governor Woodhouse of the Cape was informed that the Alibama was in Saldanha Bay, in hot pursuit of the enemy vessel, The Sea Bride. The Sea Bride was forced into Table Bay, curious onlookers who lined the shores of Table Bay, Greenpoint, Camps Bay, never saw a steamer and were overjoyed when the Alibama defeated the enemy vessel, The Sea Bride, which was forced into Table Bay and the victory tale became a folk song."

The second verse seems to be more of a traditional wedding song. The song remains popular to this day, and is regularly performed in choral competitions, as well as, for example, a standard of Boeremusiek dance band music, and being included in the South African Scout movement's campfire songbook.

Symphony: Daar Kom die Alibama (2010)

I have called my piece a 'symphony' referring to the original meaning of 'sounding together', partly in honour of this extraordinary song, which is celebrated by so many different communities. However, my symphony has nothing to do with the 18th and 19th century genre, with its movement structure, its themes, motives and development. On the contrary, in line with the most of the avant-garde music of the second half of the 20th century, there are NO themes, motifs, no development and no climaxes, although I have allowed myself a certain amount of repetition. Rather, there is simply a juxtaposition of different orchestral textures. All material and patterning is treated structurally and not dramatically. As with many of my earlier pieces, the structure of the piece could more easily be compared with that of African textiles than African musical models. The piece is not based in any way on the original song.

While writing the piece it became for me a meditation on the sea and the role of ships and their cargoes in our history - the porcelains, textiles, spices, teas, teachers, explorers, exploiters, scientists, soldiers, weapons, diseases and slaves... So the piece hovers in a state of unfulfilled anticipation from beginning to end. The arrival of the Alabama was not without its ominous side.

AFRIKAANS

Daar kom die Alibama,

Die Alibama kom oor die see,

Daar kom die Alibama,

Die Alibama kom oor die see.

Nooi Nooi die rietkooi nooi,

Die rietkooi is gemaak,

Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,

Om daar op te slap.

Nooi Nooi die rietkooi nooi,

Die rietkooi is gemaak

Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,

Om dar op te slap.

O Alibama, die Alibama,

O Alibama kom oor die see.

ENGLISH

There comes the Alabama,

The Alabama comes over the sea,

There comes the Alabama,

The Alabama comes over the sea.

Girl, girl, the reed bed is made,

The reed bed is made,

The reed bed is made,

For me to sleep on.

Girl, girl, the reed bed is made,

The reed bed is made,

The reed bed is made,

For me to sleep on.

Oh, Alabama, the Alabama,

Oh, Alabama come over the sea.

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