This is a question that has experts pondering
for years and can not be answered without a measure of controversy.
In short we, The Traditional Boer Music Club, can define Boermusic as
instrumental folk music, dating from the period during which the people
who practiced it where internationally know as "Die Boere"
(The Boers) of South Africa. It is informal music that is played in
a distinctive way and was primarily intended as accompaniment for social
dancing. For the purpose of this conversation we exclude other kinds
of Afrikaans music from the same period like ballads, serenades and
music aimed at passive audiences.
It is nearly impossible to put the rich variety of feeling elements,
nuances and sounds that form the essence of Boermusic into words. It
is an "experience" of strong and unique character that can
not be described in music science terms. The concertina was, and is
still to this day, the top lead instrument in Boermusic. Apart from
the different types of concertinas that are found in Boer music, there
are different dance rhythms and variations in accompaniment. It is striking
how each artist often develops a unique and recognizable style. Just
as amazing is how the different types of concertinas as well as the
different geographical regions created divergent disciplines within
The origins of Boermusic is like a vine with entangled roots and the
development has to be distilled from history and myth. The earliest
writings contained no reference to the term "Boermusic" or
"Boere orkes" (Boermusic band). It is therefor necessary to
search for clues that point to the music in question as light, cheerful,
informal and indigenous dance music and not formal or classical music.
For that we have to follow references to music-, dance- and song habits
during the course of history to determine the inception of Boermusic
and how it developed.
Boermusic is largely European
in origin and it would be a misconception to think that it was brought
to South Africa by the early settlers. Most of it was imported fairly
recently but aquired a flavour of its own and remained in vogue here
long after it went out of fashion abroad.
Whenever a certain dance became popular in Europe
or anywhere else, it was not long before it was introduced in the Cape
by military bands of the British Empire. Whenever they were off duty,
they hired themelves out for parties, weddings and other social events.
There where dance masters who taught the new dances to the locals and
from there it spread into the hinterland.
It acquired a local flavour and character of it's own in the process.
A large volume of Boermusic was consequently composed by local musicans,
as is still the case today.
There where also music teachers
who noted down local tunes. The first person to do this was Charles
Etienne Boniface (1787-1853) who arrived in the Cape in February 1807
1. Short exerpts from the book by Wilhelm
Shultz, "Die ontstaan en ontwikkeling van Boeremusiek"