On the way to watch Die Antwoord last night all healthy eating habits were broken as we chowed down at our local fastfood outlet to get to the show on time. Behind us two young women in their early 20s were perched at a window booth doing that annoying noughties thing, playing music on their cellphone at full volume. It was a depressing set of soppy badly-produced RnB and as my partner-in-crime put it so aptly, there’s no worse ‘bad RnB’ than French RnB. The girls loved it though and sang along to every lyric mimicking the sadness, the heartbreak, the ecstasy of whichever madamoiselle’s mediocre voice was blaring out. I was on the brink of heartburn from the sheer painfulness of it all until they suddenly switched stations and I sat back enraptured. The RnB turned into a Bollywood hitsong, the girls jumped giddily up during the opening notes and began to act out a choreographed dance routine while singing every word of the song. The point is, they certainly didn’t look or sound Indian and yet they knew the lyrics by heart. You see, they’d bought into the package deal of the Bollywood song, they clearly loved the exotic melody, the high-pitched rise-and-fall singing style; and their clean dance moves showed they’d spent hours imitating the music video. They loved it so much that they’d learnt the words, every single one of them, while more than likely not understanding a single one. Little did I realise that I would experience this same feeling of awe times one million a little over an hour later, as I listened to hundreds of European fans singing along to Die Antwoord’s mishmashed South African lyrics in a beautifully rof yet finely perfected South African accent. So much of naas. I just couldn’t get the grin off my face throughout the performance, and looking back, nor could most of the audience. It was absolutely thrilling – Die Antwoord is the modern-day antidote to boring live music performances.
I’m no music fundi but I am certainly a music lover and I can attest that throughout my lifespan and certainly way before that, English language songs, largely from UK and USA based artists, have dominated both the global music charts and the mainstream ones in South Africa. For how long have South Africans complained about the rest of the world not knowing about our music, about how much we hope to enter the international music scene, about how we dream of people knowing more of our artists than the legends Johnny Clegg and Miriam Makeba. From Rock to Kwaito to Folk to Soul to Maskandi, to SA HipHop to Jazz to Electro to DeathMetal to World, our musicians have slogged away hungrily for years modestly struggling away for airplay, audiences, a record deal – living in hope and building their hometown audiences, playing to small venues, while constantly being whupassed on radioplay and record store sales by music made in places like Essex and Ohio. And we’re not alone, probably every small town and country musician in the world fights the very same battle. Some communities (SA has made a few efforts) have shown more pride and confidence in their homegrown music and dedicated entire channels, radio stations and TV Shows to broadcasting music sung in indigenous languages, about indigenous issues and in indigenous styles and their homegrown artists sit side-by-side with the imported hits. Granted, there are lots of hybrid styles that borrow from the US and UK giants of music – the French RnB scene being a point-in-case, but somehow, no matter how hard they work at imitating the greats, it often comes off second-best.
Standing in the second-row watching Yolandi and Ninja strut their sweet Cape Town swagger all over the stage (and Ninja over the crowd a few times), I couldn’t help but feel that we are in a very interesting time of musical democratisation and that thanks to the interwebs spreading the love for artists like Mujava, Spoek Mathambo, 340ml, Freshly Ground and Thandiswa… we are able to finally give the US and UK heavies some competition from … wait for it… the suburbs of a crime-ridden poverty-addled city on the tip of that poor wretched dark continent. The phrase that came most to mind as I watched the multicultural audience go absolutely moggy for Die Antwoord, expelling an energy I have not felt at a live gig in possibly years, was ‘How Ironic’. Describing why I felt this way is hard, but it really was just all so very ironic.
Around me in the audience were two French girls, one who had come from freaking far away Nantes, the other from Paris (4 hour drive), two guys from Antwerp, a Cape Townian from Leuven and a local Liege guy who brought his 8 year old son whose favourite band is Die Antwoord. All of them knew all the lyrics. Fanatic fans had home-made tshirts bearing POES, ZEF, the SOS album graphics… a friend of mine in the audience asked me after the show: ‘Qui est Jack Parrow?’ apparently people were asking him if he was Jack Parrow or dressed as a lookalike… On that note, Ninja pornstaches, HiTek tacky 80s tracksuit tops and Yolandi fringes were spattered throughout the writhing crowd… I can’t decide if it was the 8 year old I felt more uncomfortable about or the ginormous veined penis protruding from Waddy’s Spongebob shorts as he sang into during Evil Boy – or a mixture of both. Look, if its shock value you want, Die Antwoord have oodles of it in their package and they’re not shy to shove it in your face. But if you take the time to scratch below their outward appearance and showmanship, you will agree Die Antwoord are all about ‘craft’ and I have to bow down to them for the creative geniuses that they are – they have clearly worked very hard at crafting a product, an act, a performance, a culture, that provides a home, a platform and voice for thousands of partying frustrated pissed-off youths yearning for a post-racial better world. The world is a mess and Die Antwoord provide an outlet to get it off your chest chanting words that you don’t understand but whose simple guttural sounds make you just feel better – and like they get you.
And I’m forgetting the main point of my article here, if you were blind and didn’t understand a single word of Die Antwoord would you still be a fan, the answer is an unequivocal YES if you’re a young hip groover in 2010. It is not the shock factor that has drummed up their global support, it is not the sexy Yolandi (whose name was screamed by panting men and women alike) it’s not their use of attention-seeking lyrics, it’s not the fact that they are these weird poor white South Africans… It is however a large part because they are musically super-gifted, their flow, Hi-Tek’s smooth beats, the soul, the rhythms, the rhymes, their music has so much stickyness that they have millions of people the world over that are buying their music. They still know nothing about Cape Town, they still don’t understand what NAAI means, they have no interest in our culture or issues – they just want to party to music that moves them, that makes them feel alive, that gives them space to go freaking nuts and express themselves. And Die Antwoord is indeed true to its name, they are their answer.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a prude – I grew up a nerd with a rebel side and I have never felt comfortable with really crass language. I was brought up in a family where ‘bloody’ was the permissable swearword and anything stronger than that was not to be uttered. We were also encouraged to have a broad vocabulary so that we could express ourselves with punch-packing words that described situations better than expletives. But there’s something about Afrikaans swearwords that render that concept obsolete – because as most South Africans will attest, there are some words in Afrikaans that can never be translated. A question I had to ask myself was, apart from the awful veiny penis, if I didn’t understand most of the vulgar lyrics, would I still feel the slight uncomfortableness I did? I don’t think so, I think that’s just the remains of my prudish apartheid-enforced calvinist education that still sputters out a few fingerwags every now and then, much to my horror.
And that’s what I also love about Die Antwoord is that they are disturbers – disruptors – demystifiers – when you find yourself transfixed staring at the stage repeating NAAI or MOER for the 20th time, you realise how clever these bloody agents are and that they’ve helped you devalue the meaning and construct society gives to… words and concepts. They make you challenge your own limitations, your own perceptions. For too many years now South Africans have been told how to think, how to behave, how to be spiritual, how to be white, how to be black, how to be PC, how screwed up we are, how messed up our country is, how criminal we are. Well I say fok you all. Take us or leave us. But stop picking on us. It’s still our time and it’s going to be for a while so skyf op in die bed.
We told you on the 30th of January that their global journey was beginning; we tell you 11 months later that if you aren’t here now, you want to get onboard. Haters step down and give credit where credit is due – jealousy makes you nasty. Thanks dudes for a zeffing great party. I danced my gat off and loved being in the mosh. You made me proud, very proud. Represent!
All photographs taken at the Liege concert – courtesy of Jan Van Den Bulck . Baie Dankie Jan!!!