Christmas Bands have a long and rich history in Cape Town.
Uthando was invited to be part of the 90th birthday celebrations of one of the oldest Christmas Bands, the Young Guiding Stars Sacred String Band. The gala evening was attended by James Fernie and his partner Zackeen Thomas, it was a wonderful evening filled with laughter, music and friendship.
James Fernie was invited to deliver a motivational message, especially aimed at the young members of the band.
James Fernie, Shirley De Kock and Fred De Kock. At 89 years old (soon to be 90) Fred is the oldest member of the band
Speech by James Fernie
Band Life-President, Fred De Kock, Band President Elizabeth Gorridon, Chairperson Mark De Kock, Captains Diederick and Donovan, Band Committee and Anniversary Committee members, ladies and gentlemen, young ladies and young men.
It is a great honour, privilege and joy for Zackeen and me to be here with all of you this evening to share in the 90th birthday celebrations for the YGSSSB. I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to say a few words, which I hope you will find inspiring and motivating.
How do you make a bandstand?
Take away their chairs. ☺
On behalf of the Harfield Village Community and the board of Uthando South Africa, I have the pleasure of conveying best wishes to the YGSSSB, all of the band members, the families of the band members and the broader community affiliated with the band, on this your 90th birthday celebrations.
I am not exactly sure of the year the first discovered that the band, I think it was in 2011, but I certainly do remember very vividly my first recollection of the band. I was walking down 2nd Avenue on a bright sunny Sunday morning, and heard this beautiful sound emanating from St Mathews Anglican Church. I very excitedly walked towards the church too see who was playing.
The beautiful music was certainly matched by the smart, elegant and proud band members standing on the lawn in front of the church.
Organisations like the YGSSSB nourish my soul, the band respresents a bygone era with an old fashioned value system of decency, dignity and honour.
I was beyond excited to hear that the band infact originated in Claremont, and I just knew that this was going to be the start of a strong connection between the band and the community of Harfield Village.
I have lived in Harfield Village since 2003 and became involved in Harfield civic matters in 2009. I was elected chairperson of the HVA (Harfield Village Association) in 2011, and remain in that position today. As the chairperson of a residents committee representing the interests of the residents of Harfield Village, I have often agonized about how to address the forced removal history of the community. In my view it is critically important for all communities to know and understand their history, with all of its complexity, tragedy and triumphs.
Meeting the band was a lightbulb moment. Here was a beautiful connection to the history of Harfield Village and a way to honour the memory of the band and in some tiny small way pay homage to the people that were forced from their homes purely due to the colour of their skin.
In 2012, for the bands 80th birthday, it was a real pleasure and privilege to have the band to officially open the Harfield Village Carnival with a parade down 2nd Avenue, and this became something of a tradition for subsequent carnivals. It is such a shame that we no longer hold the annual carnivals, this is due largely to local government red tape. But should the carnivals ever be revived, rest assured the Guiding Stares will be front and centre part of the day.
In December 2012 Fred was also celebrating his 80th birthday, so it was only fitting that we invited Fred De Kock in his capacity as Band Life President to officially open the 2012 HVA carnival. For me it was kind of awarding Fred with the “freedom of Harfield Village” much like city councils award “freedom of the city”.
Almost every year between 2012 and 2019 we were incredibly blessed to have the band playing Christmas carols in either Hampstead or Purely Park and in 2019 at the Christmas market. I need to get my act together in the few remaining months of 2022 so that the band can return post Covid-19 the play in Harfield Village.
I have always felt so welcomed and loved by the band, and I express my sincere gratitude for that.
Imagine what life was like in August 1932 for the founding band members. The world had just survived “the war to end all wars, World War 1 in which approximately 20 million people perished. The dire economic depression of the late 1920’s had plunged millions of people around the world into poverty. Dark clouds were gathering over Europe as the world edged closer to World War 2 in which 70 – 85 million would die between 1939 and 1945.
Closer to home, non-white communities were struggling against rising white nationalism, racial discrimination and bigotry. Fred, you would have been 16 years old in 1948 when the Apartheid government came to power. In November 1969 Harfield Village and other parts of Claremont were classified for white people only and the forced removals began.
Through all of these trials and tribulations over 90 years, the YSSSB has survived and thrived. This does not just happen, it take an enormous amount of tenacity, courage, time, passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and love.
I wonder if Fred, the various Band Captains, Band Masters and committee members had kept log books of the time that had been spent on band affiars, how many hours that would be. Committtee meetings, organizing, travelling, marching, parading, playing. Many thousands of hours over 90 years.
Whilst drafting these few words, I was thinking about the audiences that have had great pleasure of listening to this beautiful band, who were they, how many venues did the band play in. How much JOY the band has brought to so many people, both band members and audiences. Thousands and thousands of people. We must not forget that the band existed for many years before television which only came to SA only in 1976. Even broadcasting radio only came to SA in 1923. In bygone times, during the early days of the band, people relied on live entertainment.
Every generation has its challenges and pressures. The digital, information age and the onslaught of social media is changing the fabric of society at all levels. One only has to look around in private and public spaces, and watch how peoples heads are bowed down glaring into their their not-so-smart phones. Increasingly young people are being tempted away from real life activities of playing music, sports or games into the “virtual world”
One of the elements that I love most about the Christmas bands and infact the minstrels is the family and community multigenerational comraderie. This must be nurtured and cherished at all costs.
To the juniors in the band, you are standing on the shoulders of giants. You are the future of the band. You have an important responsibility and an amazing opportunity to continue the tradition and rich history of an organisations that spans 9 decades, 90 years, 32 850 days, 788 400 hours. That is how old this band is. Magnificent.
In closing, I want you all to know how special this band is. The illustrious record and outstanding achievements of the band are because of you, the band members, past band members, family members of the band members and the broader community in which the band exists
Over the next few days, I want all of you, and especially the younger members to ponder on what will people be saying about the band for the 100 birthday, the 150 birthday or the 190th birthday of the band. What role will you play in ensuring that it continues to shine like a bright light in the fabric of Cape Town society.
The Young Guiding Stars Sacred String Band
What is a guiding star?
Guide star, a reference star used to accurately maintain the tracking by a telescope of a heavenly body.
May your band grow from strength to strength, and may god bless and protect the band as it continue to be a Guiding Star to many.
I thank you.
6 August 2022