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Minstrel Carnival

Every January the streets of Cape Town are filled with the festive sights and sounds of the city's biggest social event - The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival - a.k.a. the Coon Carnival.

The history of the festival dates back to the mid 1800's when American minstrels visited the Cape with their Al Jolson-style black-painted faces and banjos. The Coloured community of Cape Town who themselves had just recently been emancipated from slavery, mimicked these performers, but in their case, painted their faces white, and sang merry but sarcastic songs, often ridiculing their former masters.

Today, the historical roots of the Carnival are all but forgotten. The Minstrel Carnival is more a celebration of life and a reflection of the naturally gregarious nature of the Cape's Coloured community. Recently the City of Cape Town has renamed the festival from "Coon Carnival" to the "Minstrel Carnival" presumably because the term "coon" has a derogatory connotation in for some people.

"Every New Year, thousands of minstrels take to the streets in a dazzling display of colourful satin uniforms, shiny parasols, painted faces and foot-tapping banjo tunes that accompany the traditional folk songs, many of Cape Malay origin"

The Minstrel Parade itself consists of over 10,000 singers dancers and musicians dressed in the most garish costumes imaginable. The Parade usually begins in District Six and / or Green Point Stadium. Dozens of out-of-tune brass bands merrily blare a cacophony of festive tunes across the City Bowl, accompanied by hundreds of dancers and encouraged by nearly ten's of thousands of cheering spectators that line the streets.

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