Sex, rap and Afrikaans win fans for S. Africa's Die Antwoord

Sex, rap and Afrikaans win fans for S. Africa's Die Antwoord

18th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Zef, a uniquely South African counter-culture, takes the discarded pop symbols of yesteryear and revives them in defiantly proud low-class style.

JOHANNESBURG--A tattooed rapper spits Afrikaans swear words into a giant penis-shaped microphone as a tiny peroxide blonde jumps furiously up and down on the stage. This is Die Antwoord, a South African rap-rave group whose white trash act is gaining notice and notoriety around the world.

Yo-Landi Visser, the peroxide blonde -- a nymphet whose voice seems compressed by helium -- wears the group's credo on a sign attached to her rear: "Fok jou", or "fuck you" in English-tinged Afrikaans, the language descended from South Africa's Dutch settlers.

This nihilistically X-rated attitude has brought Die Antwoord ("the answer") far from the lower-class suburbs where they shoot their videos, unexpectedly sophisticated works that have won the group critical acclaim. Formed in 2008, the group had a worldwide breakthrough in 2009 when its video "Zef Side" (www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_pS46YRMIQ) went viral, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers in several days. The clip was chosen by the Guggenheim Foundation, the high temple of contemporary art, as one of the 25 best Internet videos of the past two years.

AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE
South Africa, Johannesburg : Yo-Landi Visser, the singer of the South African band Die Antwoord performs in Johannesburg

"It was actually the best of the 25," says a defiant Ninja (born Watkin Tudor Jones), the leader of the group, which later signed with American label Interscope -- home of Eminem, Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas. Die Antwoord has released just one album, "$O$," a genre-bending work that Yo-Landi describes as "Zef-rap-rave music."

Zef, a uniquely South African counter-culture, takes the discarded pop symbols of yesteryear and revives them in defiantly proud low-class style. "My hairstyle is fokken Zef," explains Ninja, signalling his mullet, which features an extended rat-tail and shaved sides.

Then he adds: "Zef, as soon as you explain it, you make a fokken mistake. It's a style, South African style, an ultimate style."

Beneath the permanent state of provocation -- during the interview, he suggests sniffing his armpits because "they smell like South Africa" -- Watkin Tudor Jones hides a respected artist.

At 36, he is a well-known figure on the local hip-hop scene who has taken on various identities for groups such as The Original Evergreen and The Constructus Corporation.

He isn't even a real Afrikaner -- he grew up in an English-speaking family.

"Ninja is like a superhero," he says of his current persona.

"It's like more ultimate than a normal person. Is Superman a character or Clark Kent? Is Superman more real than Clark Kent?

AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE
South Africa, Johannesburg : Fans of the South African band Die Antwoord gesture during their concert in Johannesburg

"It's like I absorb life, I absorb South Africa, and all different things around me... and then I release it." Much of what Ninja has absorbed comes from the gangster culture of South Africa's "Cape coloureds" -- mixed-race residents of the Western Cape province.

He has also teamed up with a black rapper, Wanga, to produce "Evil Boy," a single that speaks out against the practice of ritual circumcision among the Xhosa ethnic group.

Music critic Roger Young says Ninja is the perfect expression of the "meshed and very violent culture" of South Africa, where the scars of white-minority rule are still visible 17 years after the end of apartheid. "There is a rage: we inherited this fucked-up place, we have to be angry about the past, but at the same time, we also have to accept it," says Young.

Die Antwoord concerts, he says, are "a great place to go and offload your South Africanness." The group is due to release a new album, "Tension," in September. But once the shock effect has passed, will Die Antwoord survive?

"We're just doing our thing, and when we get bored of it, we will fokken do something else," says Ninja. "The fokken future is here," answers Yo-Landi. "Right now, right here. In your face!"

Charlotte Plantive / AFP / Expatica

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