Billed as a “mass gathering of divine remembrance”, Cape Town is set to witness a cultural collision of epic proportions when a melodious Muslim prayer is performed next week.
The Mother City will become the site of a sacred ritual when the first public performance of the Gadat by hundreds of artists, dancers, performers and worshipers takes place.
The event, unique to the Western Cape, according to organisers Hasan and Husein Essop, is normally reserved for moments of personal significance such as deaths, births and anniversaries. It will be performed out in the open for this year’s Live Art Festival – an art festival that began in Cape Town this week.
“Everything is going to be recited in Arabic, so most of the people in the city won’t really understand the words themselves but we are hoping that the melodies of the prayers will still be beautiful to listen to. We’ve invested a lot in sound and acoustic engineers to make sure that the experience of the sound, which has been crafted by generations of South African Muslims, will be clear throughout the city,” said Hasan.
The Gadat was created by the forefathers of Islam in the Cape. Many of them were servants and slaves. “The Gadat’s sound and tune were created because of slaves not being allowed to pray. Instead, they pretended to be singing.
“So hosting a Gadat at one’s home and in mosques became a common practice within Cape Muslim communities. These gatherings brought the families and friends together ... forming a strong and important identity for them.”
The Live Art Festival kicks off Cape Town’s art season this week, with Cape Town Art Fair and the Art Africa Fair scheduled to open their doors in the next two weeks.
More than 30 artists from 12 countries are taking part in the festival, which this year features some of the world’s most important art figures including South Africa’s performance artist Steven Cohen. Cohen was recently arrested in Paris during his performance, entitled Cock, where he walked around the city with a live rooster attached to his penis.
“I think Cohen highlights some hugely important points in his work – we’re fans of his work – but we’re also aware that including the Gadat on the same programme with him could raise some eyebrows,” said Hasan.
“We believe that the Gadat is something pure and true, and that good art is pure and true, and so as part of a live art festival we are going to have to try new things to create more good art.
“Muslims around the world are experiencing similar hardships and struggles, be it in America, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Myanmar – all around the world – and that’s not forgetting the damage that has been caused by extremist groups who have tarnished the image of Islam.
“So we’re hoping this gathering will allow Muslims to welcome and host people from all backgrounds, to enjoy the wonderful community spirit that exists among the people of Cape Town and to demonstrate the warm nature that Islam preaches,” Hasan said.
But is their prayer a work of performance art, or just a prayer? Does it even matter?
Hassan reckoned: “It is difficult to categorise this gathering, I cannot call it art or performance but rather allowing people to experience a ritual gathering made possible by the arts.”
The Gadat performance will take place at the Artscape Piazza on Sunday February 19, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. The Essop brothers advised that visitors bring their own chairs and refreshments. For more details go to ica.uct.ac.za