/ 3 April 2024

Finding home in clap and tap music

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Gathering in harmony: Young women of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa’s Sedibeng Youth Choir get together for church practice.
God Edition

One hot Sunday afternoon, I was waiting for my brother to fetch me after a church service that had left me with more questions than answers. 

In my black dress and black heels under the sun, I heard hands clapping in sync with feet softly stomping — accompanying that was a light soprano, followed by alto, tenor, bass.

“Oh, mohau wa modimo, ke koetsa e kakaang,” they sang. “Oh, the grace of God is such a treasure.”

Faith is a complicated thing — but it does not need to be. As much as there are set systems in place that help you navigate through, it is not the same for everyone. 

That choir spoke to me, uniquely to me. A sudden surge in my spirit compelled me to go back inside and see; it sounded like a different church was occupying the one I just attended. 

I walked back in and there they were — a group of about 20 young people, clapping and tapping, singing their hearts out.

“This is in essence how we relate to the church,” Karabo Mathebula, conductor of the Sedibeng Youth Choir of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa, tells me afterwards. 

“Our church doctrines are very old and sometimes rigid. Some young people find it difficult to manoeuvre around and find their place in the church. This is why we sing the way we do; so they can find their ministry in the church.”

South African clap and tap is a unique form of musical expression that combines elements of traditional African rhythms, gospel music and percussive sounds created through hand claps, foot stomps and body percussion. It emerged from the vibrant culture of the country’s townships and has gained popularity both domestically and internationally.

Clap and tap groups often feature vocal harmonies and energetic performances that captivate audiences. 

Mathebula and the choir members gather most Saturdays to practise the items they will be performing on Sunday. But it goes far beyond that. Sometimes they gather not to rehearse but with the understanding that to keep the ministry alive, they need to meet often.

“Others have the gift of healing through prayer, others are preachers, others are gifted in running the administration of the church, then there are others who can’t do all of that. Instead, they sing with the hope of retaining and maintaining a divine connection with their God,” he says.

For me, clap and tap music feel like home because it accommodates all parts of my spirituality. I come from a family that practises African spirituality and being able to be in a church that allows for that showed me the goodness of God — when we don’t complicate it and are accepting.

In a world where faith can feel rigid and exclusive, clap and tap music provides a space where individuals can express their spirituality authentically. It’s not just about the music; it’s about finding a sense of belonging and connection to something greater than oneself.

As I continue on my journey of faith, I am grateful for the sanctuary that clap and tap music has provided, reminding me that God’s grace is a treasure available to all who seek it.