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Cape Town Minstrel Marches Monday

FILE: A member of a minstrel troupe marches in the city center of Cape Town during the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) Cape Town Minstrels Carnival.
FILE: A member of a minstrel troupe marches in the city center of Cape Town during the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) Cape Town Minstrels Carnival.

About 20,000 performers divided in dozens of troupes are marching in the city center on Monday while playing music and dancing for the annual Cape Town Minstrel carnival.

A tambourine in hand and a pacifier in his mouth, two-year-old Thaakir Buzic is ready to join brightly colored bands parading through the streets of Cape Town, in South Africa.

The boy is going to be the youngest of 13 family members -- led by his 68-year-old great great aunt to take part in the parade -- as dancers for the 1,000-strong Playaz Inc troupe.

Also known as "Tweede Nuwe Jaar" ("Second New Year"), the celebration, which returns after a two-year Covid-induced break, is a family affair for Buzic's relatives.

Dressed in the band's distinctive green and white colors, Buzic bounced from one leg to the other as brass players rehearsed outdoors at a school in Mitchells Plain, near Cape Town, on New Year's Eve.

"It's in the troupes that my parents met. I was born into it, the same goes with my kids and my grand-kids," said his grandmother, Sadia Daniels, 40, who has not missed a parade since she was born.

"Only the lockdown could keep us away from it ... this year we're back on track."

The festivity has its roots in colonial times, when slaves -- some of whom were forcibly brought to Africa's southern tip from Southeast Asia -- were allowed to relax on the day after New Year's Day.

They used the time off to dress up, dance and sing.

It's now seen as a celebration of the Cape's diverse culture and marks the start of a weeks-long competition where minstrels battle it out for the title of best troupe.

In impoverished, crime-ridden communities with high unemployment rates, for some joining a band offers a way out.

"The biggest thing for us is to keep the youngsters occupied. It takes them away from all the ills from our neighborhoods," said Raeed Gallant, 35, co-director of Playaz Inc.

Siraaj Allen, 30, said music kept him from taking a more dangerous path, when as a teenager he started hanging around with "the wrong guys".

"I chose music. And that saved me from being a bad person," he said.

Now a professional musician he coaches the Playaz Inc band's 150 trombones, sousaphones, trumpets and saxophones.

"Music taught me discipline and now I give it over to the younger guys, to make sure they don't go the same path that I almost went."

With 27 troupes confirmed, organizers are expecting the parade to come back with a bang on Monday after the two-year hiatus.

"Covid-19 had a devastating effect on everyone ... Many people live for this carnival," said Muneeb Gambeno the head of the association organizing the event.

"There's definitely a feeling of exuberance in the community and everyone is geared up to have the most exuberant carnival ever."