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One Love, Ghoema Beat

Inside the Cape Town Carnival
John Edwin Mason

BUY Paper · 140 pp. · 7.9 × 7.1 · ISBN 9780813930596 · $26.50 · May 2010

One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town Carnival takes readers behind the scenes of one of the world’s least known and most colorful carnivals. Similar in many ways to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the Cape Town Carnival is unique in its history, which is rooted in South Africa’s troubled past, and in its music, which is propelled by the mesmerizing ghoema beat.

In 2006, historian and photographer John Edwin Mason joined the Pennsylvanians Crooning Minstrels, one of the best known of Cape Town’s sixty-plus Carnival troupes. For the next four seasons, he took part in the troupe’s rehearsals, street marches, and competitions. He also spent time with other troupes, getting to know their members and traditions. This unprecedented access allowed him to photograph every phase of the troupe’s life—the spectacular parades and grueling late-night practice sessions, the frenetic workshops of drum makers and tailors, the rituals of donning costumes and makeup, and the joy and agony of inter-troupe competitions. His photos simultaneously dazzle the eye and engage the mind.

Mason lived in Cape Town in 1989 and 1990 and has visited the city yearly ever since. One Love, Ghoema Beat is his second book about the city’s culture and history.


The photographs are stunning. The prose is lean and suggestive, almost conversational, its economy wonderfully contrasts with the sumptuousness of photographs flooded with flamingo pink, shimmering satin, rainbow-hued glitter, and spangles.

Diana Wylie, Boston University, author of Art and Revolution: The Life and Death of Thami Mnyele, South African Artist

John Edwin Mason treats the work and play of Cape Town’s carnival as a prism into the everyday struggles that are the legacy of apartheid. He was touched by the people he came to know, intrigued by the history of their carnival, surprised by the deep commitments he encountered, and thrilled by ghoema aesthetics. These qualities animate the work. One Love, Ghoema Beat presents sound history and stimulating explanation with an eye for a very good party. It is a pleasure to read and view.

Louise Meintjes, Duke University

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