Rosa: A Love Song, A Choir & A Cultural Tradition

Expressing our common humanity & connecting with our roots

Around the world choral singing is becoming more and more popular with people of all ages. In South Africa it has always been inextricably linked to our cultural traditions. In the Mother City the ancient Rosa love song – an eternal wedding favourite – has inspired a group of singers who are adding new depth to our cultural heritage as they celebrate their third anniversary. Mansoor Jaffer, a member of The Journalist team and a part of the Rosa choir musical component, reflects.

As the Rosa Choir walked onto the stage at a fundraiser of the Moravian Church earlier this year an audience member was overcome with emotion – even before a note was sung.

He remarked afterwards: “I had to hold back my tears. In the choir I saw what our country could look like, it was clearly an idea put into practice in everyday life and through the unifying medium of music.”

He was referring to the stunning diversity of the choir. It transcends class, race, gender, religion and spatial divides. And to crown it all – every song is delivered in three languages – English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

The choir includes members from a range of musical traditions, including classical, gospel and Dutch-Malay. Some are simply attracted by the concept and are singing in a group for the first time in their lives.

The choir is an initiative of the Cape Cultural Collective (CCC), a City wide cultural network that includes poets, musicians and dancers.

The choir’s founding members were drawn from the CCC, the Langa based Umbon’omhle Community Youth Group, the Bayestars Cultural Group and an informal collective from Manenberg. Apart from the gospel singers and Malay choir veterans, the member line-up includes casual workers, professionals, a marathon runner, three foreign nationals, two nurses, a long-distance swimmer and an assortment of others.

Rosa, the choir’s first song, is an iconic piece that used to be sung regularly at Malay weddings and at choir competitions in the City. The discovery in mid-2012 of a translation of Rosa into Xhosa and English in a PhD thesis, sparked the idea for the formation of the choir.

“The process of setting up the choir was an amazing one with members learning about various histories, languages and traditions,” said Cape Cultural Collective Steering Committee member Chris Ferndale.

Transcending Divides

“The choir transcends historical divides and combines different cultural traditions in a project that is entertaining, transformative, inspirational and educational,” he said.

The choir grew steadily over time, added to its repertoire and performs on various stages in the City. Its line-up of songs include Ndihamba Nawe, Die Alabama, Lean on Me, This Land is Ours, the Pata Pata, Asimbonanga, I believe and Stand by Me.

Choir members bring their vocal and musical talents to the group, but are also called upon to participate in creative exercises. The process of translating sections of a song can be quite invigorating and challenging. The Afrikaans section of Stand by Me, is delivered as a rap, by two of the choir members with the choir providing background harmony;

Die Nag
Die Nag
Die Lange Nag is hier
Die land is donker
Die maan skyn teen die muur
Ek is so fliks
Ek skrik vir niks
Want ek weet jy staan by my
Want ek weet jy staan by my

The hauntingly beautiful Asimbonanga (We have not seen him), originally sung in Zulu and English, also has an Afrikaans verse;

Die Vlinders wapper in die wind
Die moeder vra waar is my kind
Wie het die woorde
Wat ons kan troos
Die vlam van hoop moet vlikker

The song refers to Nelson Mandela while he was prisoner on Robben Island and the choir delivers it with an emotive performance.

The choir is coached by Nicky Klassen and the musical director is Mogamat Razak Johnson, both from Manenberg.

Other key drivers are Lentegeur’s Mogamat Taupe Jacobs who grew up in the Malay choir tradition and Thulani Nxumalo who has marshalled young people from Langa into the choir.

Common Humanity

The choir subscribes to a set of values which it delivers to audiences in three languages, with instrumental accompaniment; It states:

We sing today with respect and tolerance
To express our common humanity
Connecting with our roots
Forging bonds of friendship
And affirming the value of each person

The Rosa choir has performed on small and big stages. It is regularly seen at the Slave Church Museum in Long Street, at the monthly programmes of the CCC. It has also enthralled audiences at festivals, business events and community gatherings.

Last year, the choir performed at the V & A Waterfront in a collaboration with InChoir from the UK and Die Soetstemme from Solms Delta farm in Franschhoek.

September 2015 is Rosa Choir’s most important month ever. The choir turns three years this month and will mark it with three big performances. The first is at a launch of a business hub in Philippi on 7 September. A few days later the group heads to a choral event in Mitchells Plain and then to the Flower Festival in Mamre on 19 September.

The choir’s biggest performance takes place at the Masque Theatre on 27 September at 6.30pm, taking on the form of a scripted concert. The story of the Rosa choir and the CCC will be told through song, poetry and comedy. Tickets go on sale next week at R100 each. For more information, contact Elizabeth Schutter at or 084 616 2687. See Rosa Choir Project or Cape Cultural Collective on Facebook.