Trevor Sacks at n+1:
Boeremusiek usually has no vocals, and its central instrument is the crunchy, droning concertina, an originally European free-reed instrument replete with bellows—much like an accordion, but smaller and perhaps cuter. As with some forms of American folk music, guitar, banjo, occasionally violin, and bass or cello accompany it. It could be considered the bluegrass of South Africa, although perhaps it’s closer in sound to Cajun music, or polka mixed with Parisian cafe kitsch.
A typical boeremusiek song, like the traditional “Sonop” (“Sunrise”) as played by Die Oudag Boere-Orkes (The Old-Time Boere Orchestra), begins with a short figure played on a lone concertina, increasing in tempo like a wind-up record, before the rest of the band joins in. An acoustic guitar provides rhythm along with a bouncing, plucked cello to mark the bassline; while a second concertina provides harmonic lines and chord stabs. As in bluegrass, a banjo adds extra jauntiness, tripping atop the guitar rhythm. In the traditional bands, no drums feature, though they do in bands like The Klipwerf Orkes, perhaps the most successful current boeremusiek act. Their drummer adds plenty of splashy accents to the relentless, chugging rhythm in their version of “Sonop,” and they’ll often include clean electric guitars, synthesizers and pianos.