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Afrikaaps - Opening image

Black Afrikaans

by Rob Cockcroft / Images by Bowie Verschuuren / 25.10.2011

Afrikaaps is an award-winning local theatre production that looks at the history behind the unique way in which Afrikaans is spoken innie Kaap. Tracing the formation of the language back to its roots, the play offers an alternative take on the evolution of Afrikaans and contests its all-white identity. Through a mish-mash of experimental performances featuring a group of talented musicians, poets and dancers called “argitekbekke” (architect mouths), the play shuns the negative connotation of Afrikaans as ‘the language of the oppressor’ and recasts it as a black African mother tongue. The live performance is also spliced with documentary footage which follows each artist on their historical journey to find their link to their Afrikaaps heritage. We recently caught up with Dylan Valley, the director of the Afrikaaps documentary.

Mahala:This is not just about having a jol. Tell us a bit about the story behind Afrikaaps and what the main message is?

Dylan Valley: The main message is that Afrikaans is not the language of the opressor, of apartheid or even a “white” language. The first written Afrikaans was in Arabic text and first people to start mixing Dutch with their own languages were the Khoi, the San and the “Malay” slaves. The language was hijacked in the 1870s and today the descendants of these groups are meant to feel like the way they speak Afrikaans is “lesser than.” The Kaaps dialect should be seen as being on the same level as the “pure/ suiwer” Afrikaans. The show is like a remix of history, reinterpreting it and telling the other side of Afrikaans.

The show is being called a ‘hip hopera’; and it’s a fusion of documentary footage and live musical performances. What can we expect?

The show is a mixture of jazz, hip hop, poetry, documentary and dance. You can expect to laugh, cry and bob your head. The crew consists of a talented group of musicians, all of whom are accomplished solo artists in their own right, such as Kyle Shepherd, Jitsvinger, Emile Jansen, Shane Cooper aka Card on Spokes, Bliksemstraal, Jethro Louw and Blaq Pearl. The Dutch version of the show also has Akwasi Ansah of the cutting edge hip hop crew Zwart Licht and the godfather of Dutch hip hop, Def P.

You premiered Afrikaaps in The Hague recently as part of your tour of the Netherlands. Where are you now? What’s next?

We’re based in Amsterdam throughout our stay, we just did Stadschouwberg in Amsterdam, a big theatre on Leidseplein. Last night was Rotterdam, tonight Utrecht, then Haarlem and then Amsterdam again in the Bijlmer area, which is like the “ghetto” in Amsterdam.

What has the reception been like compared to SA?

In SA the message was really the emancipation of the Afrikaans language. And the audience felt it instantly and saw themselves mirrored on stage. Over here, we have to contextualise and explain the history of colonisation and language politics as people here are so far removed from our reality, and that part of their history. But the response has been great.

Afrikaaps - Hip Hopera

What’s your take on the way Afrikaans-speaking Coloured people are being portrayed in the media. I mean there’s a show like Colour TV now, is that fairly representative of Coloured people’s culture? Also, the media tends to shine their spotlight on artists like Jack Parow and Die Antwoord without touching on many other Afrikaans rappers. Initiatives like Hiphopkop are getting these kinds of artists out there in the media, but is that enough? Is there a case of under-representation in your eyes?

Ja, I would say there is a definite under representation going on. Usually you only see a “coloured” person (particularly speaking in the Kaaps dialect) on tv as a gangster, clown, or coon. Except for on 7de Laan. But Errol and the likes on 7de Laan are definitely not Kaaps. I haven’t watched Colour TV so I can’t really comment on that, but I’ve heard the show is kinda lame… and stereotypical. In terms of Afrikaans rappers, especially from the Cape Flats and areas like that, there’s so much talent that stays underground because of a number of socio-economic reasons and lack of access to the right channels. Also we as consumers need to actively buy and support local music. The media won’t take the first step. It has to come from the people.

Afrikaaps - Heritage

There is a perception that artists have to receive international acclaim before they’re recognised here in Mzansi. Does that hold true in your case?

I don’t know…we’ll see if we get more big ups now. I must say though that the show was really well received at home, and scooped a couple of KKNK Kanna Awards and Kyknet Fiesta Awards. The film also won best SA documentary at the Cape Winelands Film Festival. But some international exposure never hurts your credibility. I think already a lot of people have started to take the show and its message a little more seriously.

*All images © Bowie Verschuuren

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