Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Rediscovery of Afrikaans Music

That I had to leave the country of my birth to rediscover the music of my mother tongue is not strange, but that it actually happened is refreshing. The fact that I was not totally consumed by the “culture if the 20th century” since my arrival in the States is a thankful blessing. The rediscovery is a direct result of the Internet and the availability of mp3’s. And maybe, because you can take me out of Africa, doesn’t mean you can’t take Africa out of me. And Afrikaans is African, was born and kneaded and molded in Africa, and still is.

When I left in ’97, Afrikaans music was in my opinion stagnant. The Voelvry movement of 1989 with Johannes Kerkorrel en die Gereformeered Blues Band, Koos Kombuis and others, managed by “Dagga” Dirk Uys held so much promised as a final breakaway from Bles Bridges and soppy, only-love-songs-is-good-enough-for-sales in Afrikaans. Although their impact was small, at the time, it certainly was significant as a point of reference for others to follow. (Read more about the Voelvry movement and their impact.) In the 90’s we had be content with syrupy AndrĂ© Schwartz, teen idol Steve Hofmeyr and funny man Leon Schuster. The only light carriers of Afrikaans folk and rock during that period was Valiant Swart, Koos Kombuis and Piet Botha. Sadly, it would be a wait of 10 or more years before we experienced the next explosion of Afrikaans rock.

The only major Afrikaans musicians in 1997 were Anton Goosen, in the folk, pop and Afrikaans rock genres, the man they called the Bob Dylan of South Africa, which is an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Dylan, but it is also an insult to Goosen’s gigantic contribution to Afrikaans music. For me Anton Goosen is Anton Goosen. Period. His sound is unique and he is a pioneer in introducing new sounds, especially African sounds into standard Afrikaans music. His collaboration with the Kommissie Van Ondersoek on the Winde van Verandering album is still the best for me. Maybe we should also call him the Paul Simon of South Africa. The second big name is Amanda Strydom, the Voice. Although she had her fair share of downs, she always came back to reach yet never before highs and her staying power must be admired. Comfortable in cabaret, contemporary and rock, she seems to always give all of her over to the music, exposing her inner self and leaving herself vulnerable. Thirdly there was Piet Botha / Jack Hammer, South Africa’s own blues and classic rock, Afrikaans/English rocker, who learned his music in hard school of Los Angeles’ rock bands. And lastly, Coenie De Villiers, who has that unique ability to combine the use of the most beautiful Afrikaans lyrics with sensitive piano music and present it in a sophisticated, professional manner that, was comparable with anything available in the rest of the world. In 1986 De Villiers’s music was banned by state radio because it was seen as too political and he left South Africa and stayed in Cyprus for 2 years. Feel free to disagree, but those are my choices.

My rediscovery started at the end of 1999 when a visited South Africa and picked up Vuurklip from Richard van der Westhuizen and Lochner De Kock in a Look & Listen in Durbanville. They were also known as Klip. Once I sat down with earphones on and really listened to this 1998 release, it knocked me of my feet so to speak (since I was already seated.) It was new, funny, explorative and refreshingly different from the other Afrikaans music I have heard before. Here were two guys that were on a new Afrikaans planet.

The groups and individuals that would follow is a revelation so far and I don’t think we have yet heard the best. It’s as if the new century has awakened a renaissance. The music is more diverse. Yes, there are still a lot of folksy guitar work, but rock, punk, industrial and even heavy metal is coming through strong. I also believe the new bunch has just as much to write about than the Voelvry movement. Life is just as complicated now as before the end of apartheid. In many ways there is a similarity in the situation. The Afrikaner and Afrikaans is seeking an identity, joblessness is heavy on their minds, crime and violence are impacting everyone, the 2nd Great Trek cause nearly 1 million people, mostly whites, to leave the country, a mass brain drain, and the euphoria of a new South Africa since 1994 has not materialized. On the contrary, although there is hope for a better South Africa and a better deal for Afrikaans, there is also despair in the lyrics and music of the new Afrikaner rockers. Just listen to Koos Kombuis’s Fokkel.

Jan Blohm, Abel Kraamsaal, Alta Joubert, Gian Groen, Akkedis, Battery 9, Thys Nywerheid, Trompie is Dood, Fokofpolisiekar, Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes, Beeskraal, Diff-Olie, and several others in the first few years of the 21st century has renewed my faith in Afrikaans rock and Afrikaans music in general. Who will survive and how many will reach the status of legends and greats are still to be seen. It is still early days of the new revolution. And all the while, Anton Goosen, Piet Botha, Amanda Strydom and Coenie De Villiers are still going strong. Koos Kombuis and Valiant Swart are still around and relative. Strydom’s “Hoor Hoe Brom Die Wind” is one of my favorite Afrikaans rock songs of all times. It has all the elements of a classic rock song. Her album Verspreide Donderbuie/Scattered Thunder won many prestigious South African music awards during 2003 and 2004. In the end it is staying power and/or deep sudden impact that will determine who we talk about 10 years from now when we talk about Afrikaans music.

PS: Noteworthy Website: DNA Strings

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