Cuckoo coloureds: Cacophonic auralities and hidden visibilities of so-called coloured identities in South Africa

DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1537044
Author(s): Glenn HoltzmanDepartment of Music, South Africa


Beginning with the association between “sounding out” and “voicing” this article begins with a tacit question of what musical metaphors might offer for thought concerning identity, and in particular the complex racial (mis-) or (dis-)identifications of so-called coloured people in South Africa. I tie the aurality of the cuckoo bird to the notion of something that pops out of invisibility and makes an irrelevant or silly kind of noise. In musical settings the cuckoo is often associated with a dissonant cacophony of multiple chiming (cuckoo) clocks and steeple bells. This offers a telling metaphor for the determination of coloured(ness) by white and black South Africans alike, for whom coloured is precisely the incomprehensible “other” whose voice cannot be heard clearly. At the same time, among so-called coloureds in South Africa, the metaphor of an internal cacophony refers to a resounding, but tragic noise created by the “sounding-out” or “voicing”, i.e. the aurality, of multiple narratives of what constitutes and nullifies coloured(ness) in South Africa. In other words, the cacophonic plurality of so-called coloured voices in society speaking simultaneously against one another in terms of self-determination also seems to be speaking beyond comprehension for most other South Africans. The ironic outcome of all of this noise is an extraordinary kind of silence.

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