Rainbow reality: Mark Solms on using music to heal the Western Cape

Following last year’s sold-out Oesfees at Solms-Delta, the annual Franschhoek harvest festival returns with Mango Groove headlining alongside local gems from the farm’s Music van de Caab rural music heritage project. It is an inspiring tale of recognition and reconciliation.

Slide-spoon guitar master Hannes Coetzee performs at the Solms-Delta Oesfees

Slide-spoon guitar master Hannes Coetzee performs at the Solms-Delta Oesfees

This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ on 2013/03/17.
Mark Solms is a busy man. Apart from heading an award-winning wine farm and spearheading a heritage project, there is the small matter of his day job. Solms is a professor of neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town and director of New York’s Arnold Pfeffer Centre for Neuro-Psychoanalysis, and the recent subject of both a feature in Time magazine and a talk at the prestigious TED.com. The Luderitz-born Pretoria Boys’ High old-boy is the authorised editor of a revised re-publication of all of Sigmund Freud‘s works and was voted “International Psychiatrist of the Year” in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association.
But this interview is not about the inner workings of the brain. Instead, it’s about how digging holes and singing songs has paved a way to revelation for the workers and owners of one Cape wine farm. And why you can hearMango Groove, Heuwels Fantasties, Tidal Waves, Radio Kalahari Orkes, Valiant Swart, Emo Adams, Hotwater and slide-spoon guitar master Hannes Coetzee playing with Albert Frost, alongside a showcase of the farm’s Music van de Caab project, like Klein-Handjies pre-school choir, the Langbroeke wind and percussion band, the Soetstemme female choir, the Delta Valley Entertainers and Delta Vastrap Genootskap, at the Western Cape’s only harvest festival, the ATKV Solms-Delta Oesfees.
“The long and short of it is that, when I came to South Africa at the end of 2001 (from stints shuttling between New York and the London School of Medicine), I had a naive idea that I could put things properly in place,” says Solms from his office in Cape Town. “I don’t mean putting the whole country in place, I just mean making a citizen-sized contribution to fix up the immediate responsibilities of the place where you live. But that proved a massively complicated task.”
Mark Solms of Solms-Delta

Mark Solms of Solms-Delta

I really believe that South African want to make it work. The ideal of the ‘Rainbow People’ – many of us want to make it happen, and the harvest festival is just one little example of that.
   – Mark Solms on the why the Solms-Delta Oesfees matters
 
Solms had decided to come back to South Africa, and return the family farm in Franschhoek to wine-making. His ground-breaking take on suitable grape varietals and viticultural practices aside, it was his approach to righting century’s worth of wrongs that proved the most innovative – and complicated.
“When I suggested to the farmworkers and the other tenants on the farm, that we should have a different kind of farm, a more equitable farm, it was truly impossible to do that,” he says. “There was no basis for having a mutual, trusting dialogues, or a project of any kind. It was clear that this history was not going to be swept aside. Just because you decide to do something differently, doesn’t mean you can. Once the farmworkers realised that I wasn’t a normal ‘baas van die plaas‘, they thought, ‘This guy’s a fool,’ and things went from bad to worse. I said, ‘Let’s stop pretending that we’re farming, because we’re not, and let’s sort this out’.”
We were really nervous the first time we did it. We knew we were socially engineering something, with free access for the farmworkers, but marketing to predominantly white farmers that could afford to buy tickets, and wanted onse musiek and onse kos.
   – Mark Solms on the first Solms-Delta Oesfees
Solms engaged archaeologists from UCT to explore the history and the heritage of the farm, both by literally digging up its past, which has culminated in the winery’s Van de Caab museum. As important was chronicling by means of oral history sessions with the farm workers and tenants. It dealt with issues of slavery and the dispossession that was inflicted on indigenous inhabitants.
“We were all learning from history experts who had no axe to grind, and as an objective source of knowledge,” says Solms. “We all came to understand how we were in the position we are, from things as basic as why South African farms don’t feel like a normal labour contract, and why people work grudgingly. The people living on farm are not there by choice: they didn’t decide to come and offer their labour to someone like me at an agreed price; they just came with the farm. It was terribly enlightening, and that then gave us a proper foundation.”
Solms goes further, acknowledging that he had to confront his own rationalisations about why – based on what he’d learned – he didn’t simply give the land back. Instead of just acknowledging his own self-interest, though, he used the farm as collateral to secure a bank loan that has seen 180 workers on the farm buy land connected to it and, with neighbouring land-owner Richard Astor, create the Solms-Delta venture.
We hoped that people would realise they like the same food and the same music and culture. The fact that the numbers have grown proves that people are now coming because they want to.
   – Mark Solms on the first Solms-Delta Oesfees
“It has been successful in all sorts of ways,” says Solms. “Living on a farm is being in a tiny village. You live cheek by jowl, and how you really affect one another. Having a reason to trust one another, even to like one another, makes a hell of a difference. Working together, side by side – not only emotionally, but in terms of actual workplace relations and productivity – that is incredibly motivating. There are commercial implications too, of course. The people working here are happy to be here and customers and visitors experience that and they become customers for life.”
One of the happiest by-products of the history project was discovering the rich musical heritage of the area, and the importance music has played in the lives of Cape farmworkers. “It wasn’t planned,” says Solms. “The research revealed all sorts of tragic stories, but alongside those were stories that are joyous. The story of Cape music is just that. There are lyrics of resilience and defiance and of joy. Out of everything that we did, I guess it was no surprise that the farmworkers grabbed onto that as something ongoing. We were intending just to archive what remained of the ou liedjies, but it lit a spark of interest, and that all came to life in our Music van de Caab project, and the Oesfees is a way of showcasing that. And linking that to the bloody hard work that everyone does on the farm, with the vines, and having a party to say, ‘Thank you,’ for all that hard work.”
This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ on 2013/03/17.
The ATKV Franschhoek Oesfees at Solms-Delta features over 100 performers, headlined by Mango Groove, Emo Adams, Heuwels Fantasties, Tidal Waves, Radio Kalahari Orkes, Valiant Swart, Hotwater and slide-spoon guitar master Hannes Coetzee playing with Albert Frost, alongside a showcase of the farm’s Music van de Caab project, like Klein-Handjies pre-school choir, the Langbroeke wind and percussion band, the Soetstemme female choir, the Delta Valley Entertainers and Delta Vastrap Genootskap, amongst others. Other highlights include a traditions like the Rieldans, Boland Kaapsekos and a Kiddie’s Area by Kidz At Heart (Saturday 23 March. Entrance is free to Solms-Delta region farmworkers; while city folk can get tickets R120 from TicketBreak.co.za or R140 at the gate. Children under 12 R20. Booking strongly advised). Details Solms-Delta.co.za, 021-8743937 andFacebook.com/SolmsDelta. The Solms-Delta music project’s late founder, trumpeter, accordion-player and composer Alex van Heerden will also be honoured at the Oesfees with the release of a book entitled, “Alex. Cameos of a Frontier Rogue”.
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