Twenty-seven years ago Jani Allan interviewed Afrikaner musical guerrillas, Johannes Kerkorrel and André Letoit at a seafood restaurant in Hillbrow. Their rendezvous coincided with one of the most sensational developments in South African history; State President P W Botha met with Nelson Mandela at Tuynhuys in Cape Town.
Marianne Thamm has explained how this “Voëlvry” generation of the 1980s laid the foundations for progressive Afrikaans music of the 21st century. The likes of Francois van Coke and his alternative punk band, Fokofpolisiekar make music that is ‘defiant, provocative, rebellious, subversive and engaged in deeper existential questions.’
Kerkorrel would tragically end his own life and Hillbrow would become unrecognisable. I have chosen this passage from Marq de Villier’s White Tribe Dreaming. This pair of ‘boere punks’ embody the spirit of Afrikaners that made the dramatic leap in rejecting the Afrikanerdom of Die Groot Krokodil.
”There are Afrikaners whose hearts are large enough to make the dramatic leap, Afrikaners who can see in the Great Trek an adventure of the spirit and not a retreat from reality; when they think of the trek they are reminded not of grievances left behind but only of the restless search for new horizons, for the endless blue horizons of the African interior.”* – Ed
”Hou ‘n party, bou ons’ nasie, met die nuwe sensasie!’
So exhort Johannes Kerkorrel en die Gereformeerde Blues Band, part of a band of Afrikaner musical guerrillas who are infiltrating the territory of Accepted Norms, openly defying the doctrines of the National Institution of Anton Goosen and claiming responsibility for burning (Bles) Bridges’ kwekery.
Kerkorrel is currently topping a national hit parade with a cult liedjie called Hillbrow.
JANI ALLAN went kerjakkering around Hillbrow with Alternatiewe Afrikaners Nommer Een en Twee – the KERKORREL organist and the boere punk skrywer ANDRE LETOIT.
Kerkorrel and Letoit meet me at a prawn restaurant in Hillbrow. Shiny orange goldfish dart in a tank. Swags of mouldering fishing nets and dusty fake crayfish adorn the walls. The cockroaches probably wear overalls.
‘It’s a dive. We come here because it feels so nice. Nobody would ever expect anything.’ says Kerkorrel with an onwillekeurige lagie.
The Boer Punk Pair survey the Engelse meisie warily.
Tonight Kerkorrel is wearing a holey jersey and jeans.
Letoit has opted for a smart striped blazer – very Renoir ‘Boating Party’ – worn over a plaid shirt. I’m wishing I looked more …alternative. A badge on the lapel of the Daks jacket saying ‘Free Afrikaner Kids’ or a tatty T-shirt with a slogan saying ”Praat-Met-Die-ANC-Maar-Nie-Te-Hard-Nie” maybe..
But the refugees from Afrikanerdom thankfully warm towards me considerably when I produce a couple of bottles of Zonnebloem I had taken the precaution of picking up at the Geel Apteek.
Culture rebels, the band’s recent highly successful Voelvry tour was subject to informal harassment: car tyre slashings, the verspreiding of pamphlets in which citizens were warned of the ‘satanic, evil and communistic’ content of the music.
Almal is in a a borrel oor Kerkorrel.
Jy miet in ‘n huisie bly/Trou en kinders kry/In jou karretjie ry-y-y-y-y/En stem vir die Party/Ek se nee dis ‘n mors/’n Mors van energie
Kom ons probeer anargie/Ons is moeg van apartie/Ons probeer anargie/Soek ‘n nuwe energie
Banned in Bethlehem, pilloried in Potch, told voertsek in Vanderbijlpark and censored by the SABC …
Official displeasure has assured an unprecedented cult following at their concerts.
When 4000 people flock to hear the Alternative Rock it becomes clear. Not everyone is turning a deaf ear. Kerkorrel en kie are saying something that is making sense.
On stage, Kekorrel whips his audience into ecstasy with his whooping bopalong brand of boogie and brazen energy Off-stage. He’s James Dean laconic, throwaway cool with an indefinable sexuality.
Letoit has an almost apologetic manner. Reticent. Given to bursts of silence. To get him to talk requires the same perseverance as lighting a cigarette off the electric stove.
The pair have a private, speechless dialogue, punctuated with bursts of laughter, hysterical cackles.
I think of the inscription I read in an Etienne Leroux book: Die karakters in hierdie boek is verdag..
The waitress and the menu arrive.
‘Die waitress se naam is Johanna in a Griekse restautant.’ observes JK. For some reasons, this amuses the BPP (Boere Punk Pair) hugely.
Eet kreef. I suggest. (Eet Kreef, the title of Kerkorrel’s debut LP, is ambiguous, meaning either ”Have the best, enjoy!” or ”Get lost!”)
‘I’m so sick and tired of being called subversive!’ says JK.
‘We’ve never even spoken to the ANC – we’re not trendy at all!’ wails Letoit.
‘We’re starting to resent this whole question about swear words. And the subversive communist trip. I get the feeling … AI … some people just want to say SISSS!
‘We appeal to the tribal emotions. But what we’re doing is the tip of an iceberg. People should have been doing it six years ago. Let’s leave the guilt trip and this he-e-e-eavy burden of being South African. It’s ok to start enjoying yourselves. We’re a new tribe. We’ve escaped from AfrikanerDOM.’ says Kekorrel.
”And it was ****ing heavy’ adds Letoit.
Their audiences are zebra people. The world consists of mense. Not Mensa.
High society to blue collar boogie together.
‘Afrikaners is plesierig. You don’t have to deny being Afrikaans to be a liberal.
‘The Gereformeerde Blues Band is about having fun, about Afrikaner pride, about the passion and the laughter of the Afrikaners,’ says Kerkorrel. ‘But it’s also more profound. In some of our stuff you see the future. In others you see the death …’
Uit die blou van onse kneuskolle, Uit die diepte van ons heimwee, Oor ons ver verlate homelands, Waar die tsotsies antwoord gee …
Says Kerkorrel: ‘It’s the dawning of a new age. It’s up to this generation to come to an agreement with blacks. It’s pragmatic. We’re not politicians. South Africa is a media creation.
Kerkorrel worked as a reporter and sub-editor, first on Die Burger and then on Rapport.
‘I LIVED for interviewing people. My masterpiece was on Bruce Fordyce. But it came out so k*k! I also translated the stars!’ The Boere Punk Pair collapse with laughter.
‘I knew all along that I’d be something special. I was very scared. I knew that what I had was very precious and I must not let anyone else take control of it. Always be my own person. Gifts and talents are holy. You must look after them, nurture them …’
Journalism doesn’t have that much to offer.
‘The politics … AI … working as a sub … AI … there was no dream left in journalism. Not a sort of truth. Integrity is in short supply.
He drifted into cabaret, then rock and roll.
‘I could go on stage and say something that was meaningful. My writing I see as journalism. Documents.’
Rock music is the new journalism.
Johannes interviewed Letoit when his debut album, Ver Van die ou Kalahari, was released.
”Me and André decided to do this thing at the Black Sun and it just worked. We complemented each other. We used to practise new songs on the pavement on the way to the gig. Cabaret is the real thing.
Both were inspired by Flemish protest music – ‘a language related to Afrikaans that wasn’t doing a Gé Korsten.’
Praat met my André.
‘When I was about five I had my own newspaper. I had interviews with the cat when the cat became pregnant. Drew pictures. Headlines. I also wrote a novel when I was five, but my brother destroyed it.
‘He said it was unrealistic. It was about cowboys and spaceships and he told me that you can’t have both. I was very upset about that. So I stopped until Std 9.
‘I tried to enrol at Stellenbosch. They didn’t accept me. I had a bit of a reputation already. Punk skrywer en al hierdie k*k. I decided to stay on the campus for three years anyway because the most important thing about varsity is human knowledge. I only went to two classes. My parents thought I was doing stories for Huisgenoot.
In André’s novel, Suidpunt-Jazz, he describes as die Alternatiewe Groot Trek-roman, inspired by FR Franklin’s Die Gelofte Land, a trilogy of books about the Greak Trek.
‘I wanted that historical quality. But it turned into hysterical!’
‘I think you should take everything seriously except yourself. I’d like to explore different genres. Maybe I’d be able to play more chords … B minor would be a challenge.’
Writing comes easily. It’s a weird urge. Difficult to describe.
His new LP – Bernholdus Niemand and Kerkorrel worked with him – he describes as ‘sombre’.
‘It’s like Springsteen’s Nebraska and called No Man’s Land.’
At the Grahamstown Festival they’re doing Picnic Too, a follow-up to the outrageous Picnic at Dingaan’s.
Once Letoit was sitting in a kafee in Pretoria.
‘Some CP toppies were talking at the table next to me and I resented everything they stood for. Then I started getting empathy when I realised that in their way they were copmpletely honest and their fears were completely justified. Believing that democracy can work is a very high-risk thing. I got this nostalgic feeling. When they left I wrote Boer in Breton.
Ek rook ingevoerdefags/Ek lees Engelssprekende mags maar
In hierdie land van blik en glas/Is ek ‘n mens in sak en as
Ek’s ‘n Boer in Beton/Soos Oom Paul op ou Kerkplein/Niemand weet van my pun…
How do they plead in answering to the charges of bastardising the Afrikaans language, turning it into a jy weet mixture soort ding.
‘Dialect existed for a long time, but we were the first to actually publish it,’ says Kerkorrel.
‘If they’d set up rigid rules for the English language people in England would speak Chaucerian English now,’ points out Letoit.
‘Kyk na daai mense wat by die SAUK werk. And they are controlling the taal,’ says Kerkorrel. ‘It’s a koombuis taal. They’ve tried to turn Afrikaans into English. All those guys with their fake English accents. Where do they fit in? They have this identity that doesn’t belong in England or here. What we’re doing is confronting ingrown attitudes and stereotypes on every level.’
Letoit adds: ‘The right word to use is ons wil die Afrikaner demitologiseer – demythologise the Afrikaner. Afrikaners are also people.
In destroying the so-called myths, these Boere-Punks have unwittingly become demi-legends. Rising like a Phoenix from the Ashes comes the stunning NAT – New Afrikaans Tribe.
This column was originally published by the Sunday Times on July 9, 1989
*Marq de Villiers was the first recipient of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize in 1989. de Villiers, a South African expat writer in Canada was awarded the prize in the same week that this column appeared.