South African film music: representation of racial, cultural and national identities, 1931-1969

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The thesis examines the role of music in South African film pertaining to representation of identity of South African peoples and cultures, from the country's earliest sound films until the industry expansion of the 1970s. Chapter 1 contextualizes the study in relation to South African film and music, mainstream (Hollywood) film music theory/analysis/history, and national film music studies outside the Hollywood context. Chapter 2 provides an analysis of nationalist trends in South African silent film and the transition to sound film. The subsequent two chapters analyse the filmic use of rural and urban African music as tools of representation of African identity across a continuum of films, from earlier colonial/Afrikaner nationalist-oriented films to later films with an explicitly anti-apartheid message. The final chapter returns to the themes of Chapter 2, exploring film-musical representation of Afrikaner nationalism. As with Chapters 3 and 4, the source material is eclectic, covering a broad spectrum of techniques to promote a nationalist agenda. The study reaches four principal findings. Firstly, film-musical representation of African identity develops nuance over time, as African subjects succeed in moving from being represented to achieving some self-representation. This representation remains within the ambit of diegetic music, however, and frequently maintains a subject/object relationship regarding white/black representation. Secondly, the use of diegetic African music functions as a form of othering, creating an illusion of representational "authenticity" while in practice ensuring the music remains external to the filmmakers' expressive universe, relegating it to the role of "ethnic" colour rather than engagement with characters' psychologies. Thirdly, film music is implicated in issues of land rights: rural African music questions the legitimacy of "whites only" city spaces, and is metaphorical of population displacement from rural to urban locales. Conversely, nationalist films use pastoral tropes to reimagine rural African spaces through European conceptualizations of "tamed" land, and sentimentalize spaces through song to lay claim to them through emotional ties. Fourthly, it evaluates African music's potential to function as dramatic, narrative, extradiegetic underscore, showing how this was partly achieved by certain films of the period, with possible implications for contemporary mainstream film scoring.