Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Afrikaans Music Helped to Change What Apartheid Left Behind

The new breed of Afrikaans musicians bridge cultural divides.
 by Zelmarie Goosen


Ask most Afrikaans-speaking 20-something South Africans, and they will likely know the names of the major Afrikaans singers: Kurt, Juanita, Nicholis, and who can forget about Steve and Patricia? In fact, Afrikaans music has even transcended cultural boundaries, and a large cross-section of our country’s youth, from all backgrounds, will say with ease that they grew up on some of these musicians, and in some cases one or both of their parents would have never missed the chance to buy the latest album or see their stars perform live.

Coming from a predominantly Afrikaans home myself, I could never escape the big names in
Patricia Lewis, the best selling female artist in SA.

Afrikaans music. It’s not that I didn’t think they made good music; it’s just that I, like many of my friends and colleagues, am part of a generation that started to move away from that type of Afrikaans music once we became teenagers. I still remember the uproar from parents (amidst immense joy from the younger generation) when Fokofpolisiekar made their appearance in the Afrikaans music scene. While their lyrics were questionable at times, the don’t-care and screw-everything attitude with which they presented what our generation is about was exactly what we had been longing for.

We are a generation always somewhat in between: neither part of Apartheid, yet not free from it; the future of South Africa, yet in the shadow of those born after 1994; old enough to remember and enjoy Creedence Clearwater Revival, yet too old to really enjoy Justin Bieber. What the boys from Fokofpolisiekar did sparked a hope in us that the Afrikaans language indeed has the ability to be what we’ve always wanted it to be: transcendent. And what followed them would be the beginning of a whole new era in the Afrikaans language, and what became essentially the beginning of our generation’s musical and cultural contribution to the new South Africa.

Foto na Dans and Straatligkinders soon emerged after Fokof, and brought a new element to their hard rock by slowing things down and allowing us to immerse ourselves in Afrikaans lyrics. As our country is inevitably linked by turbulent politics and issues that are at the core of almost everything we discuss on a daily basis, these bands layered their sounds with just enough political truth and saying what we didn’t want to, that an immediate bond was formed. Through them, the older generation could begin to understand how we felt.

This is not to say that all of these bands or all Afrikaans music is tied up with politics, of course. That was just what was used to push the genre into a space where it could feel free to start experimenting and expanding. From the early 2000s, Karen Zoid entertained us with her I’m-here-to-stay style, while simultaneously shocking us with an in-depth look into our collective soul.

These musicians managed to break through our parents’ view that Afrikaans is only good when it’s stiff and formal. When Snotkop became popular, our parents were definitely not happy, but they conceded to the fact that we speak a different Afrikaans to what they are used to, and it’s good for us because it’s something that unites us in the face of an unsure and seemingly grim future for the Afrikaans language.

The unfortunate side was that we now had an insatiable hunger to see what the new Afrikaner community would give us next, as well as the fact that we were now divided into different sets of Afrikaans music listeners: those who liked the hard and fast tunes of artists like Ef-el, Glaskas, Arno Carstens and any others mentioned above; those who liked the artists who follow the traditional way of making Afrikaans music such as Bobby and Karlien van Jaarsveld, Liana May, and Jay; and then of course there are the fans of performers who lean towards the alternative and indie genres, like Chris Chameleon (formerly part of Boo!), Die Melktert Kommissie, Klopjag, Battery 9, and Lukraaketaar.

Luckily, musicians who are now considered legends stepped up and gave us what we wanted: Die Heuwels Fantasties, Jack Parow, and even Die Antwoord (even though their lyrics and performances are questionable at times as well). What makes these bands so great for us as South Africans is that they could now join the list of South African performers we already loved. Chromium, Facing the Gallows, Hog Hoggidy Hog, Pestroy and scores of others united us, and the fact that Afrikaans musicians were interested in bridging the language gap started to change the face of the South African music scene. One small beginning led Afrikaans music into what our country stands for: unity and understanding.

While it seems somewhat absurd to think that music can change our culture or the way we accept each other, it can be illuminating to think about how much closer you are to your friends when going out and seeing a South African band, and enjoying good music together. The new South Africa is all about learning about others. Isn’t this what our music has done for us? Music in Zulu, Xhosa, and other African languages is also becoming more popular among all groups. This sense of unity and transcending boundaries, I think, is exactly what those you fought for freedom intended.

Introducing Afrikaans music on this scale was the start of the contribution of our generation of musicians, and through it we might be able to shape this country into a truly multicultural and united nation.