Die Vraagby Mungo Adonis / 15.03.2010
Die Antwoord have just signed a major record deal with Interscope. They’re shooting music videos with Neill Blomkamp and having lunch with David Lynch. But back in the Cape Flats, people still don’t know who they are.
I don’t like Die Antwoord. I’ve bought into Waddy’s other incarnations before and I’m running low on indulgence this time around. Mildly ironic, as it’s his current project that’s threatening to garner the success that he’s been dodging for decades.
The interweb is eating him and his Zef-rap up whole. I just wonder when it will get full and need to kots. Because Die Antwoord is like a droe snoek pizza delivered by Eminem: cheesy, fishy, aggressive, bound to make you ill and a fundamentally bad idea.
I wouldn’t mind having him appropriate another culture if it was done in a less cynical way. See, what’s novel and funny to white people smells like plastic and opportunism to coloured people.
For my part, I know the Flats. I grew up with the people that Die Antwoord is pastiching. They’re my uncles and friends and teachers and the girls that I hit on and the guys who used to chase me around on Guy Fawkes Day and the gangsters on the corners that my mother warned me about and the aunties reading The Voice on the train and the shopkeepers who let me buy on credit because they knew my grandfather and the brasse that I used to go half on a gatsby with at school but are vuil tikkoppe now. They are not Die Antwoord. No question.
Waddy has always ninja-stepped the razor line between irony and sincerity, with many people believing that his varying personas were for real. This makes Ninja’s assertion that he is an embodiment of South African culture dangerous, particularly in the face of global attention. An entire people’s representation hangs on what is at best performance art and at worst commercial exploitation.
So while The Guardian, Pitchfork Media and uh… Katy Perry and Fred Durst are smaaking Die Antwoord, what about the people whose culture they are appropriating?
I take my laptop around to Grassy Park and played some songs from www.dieantwoord.com for my grandmother. “Hoekom moet hy so die heel tyd vloek (Why does he have to swear all the time) ?” my grandmother wants to know. Me too, for that matter. Now, this is the woman who routinely referred to my German girlfriend as “plank-poes”. So she’s not afraid of a bit of profanity. But Die Antwoord’s swearing is cynical and not very clever. It’s not even gratuitous: it’s calculated to manufacture edginess and the illusion of street-cred.
“Huh-uh. Ek lyk die gladtie (Nope. I don’t like this at all) ,” Mama says. “Wat se hy? Huh-uh. Vat die kak weg! (What’s he saying? Nope. Take this kak away) ”
I head around the corner to Bronwyn’s house. She was my Matric year girlfriend but we still chat regularly on Facebook. She still lives with her folks and her father still hates me and her room still reminds me of gangly teenage sex.
“I can’t actually hear what he’s saying,” she says after listening to ‘Enter the Ninja’. “Um… He raps very fast, hey. Umm… What’s Zef? And why’s she singing about his production?”
Things get a bit awkward during ‘Beat Boy’s graphic porno-rap. Memories, I suppose.
Bronwyn is not stoked about his accent either. To our ears it’s as authentic as Matt Damon’s South African accent is in Invictus. Americans might not notice the discrepancy, but the misplaced flat/sharp mispronunciations ring loudly in our ears.
Next, I go to visit my cousin in Heideveld. His mother hugs me, shoves a polony and cheese sandwich at me and says that Rashied is in his room. Aunty Tiefa loves her son but isn’t quite able to acknowledge that he is a full time drug dealer and low-ranking gang member. He’s sitting on his bed listening to his beloved Tupac’s Hit ‘Em Up. I worry about my laptop when I see that he’s got a scary looking friend there too who remains unintroduced. I play ‘Wie Maak Die Jol Vol’, ‘Wat Pomp’ and ‘Dagga Puff’ for them.
“Bwwwhahahhaaaahhaaa,” they laugh during ‘Wie Maak Die Jol Vol’ and ‘Wat Pomp’. “Befok ja!”
It seems that they dig the party stuff. They’re less enthused about ‘Dagga Puff’ and its intro supposedly detailing a dagga deal followed by music-box beats and kiddie rhymes. “It werk ‘ie ‘n fok soe nie (it doesn’t go like that at all) ,” says Rashied. Die ou het nooit gemurt ‘ie, ‘n mens kan soema hoor (this guy has never dealt before, you can easily hear).”
I show them the pics and they laugh more. “Ninja, huh?”, says Rashied’s friend. “Ek sal hom in sy poes in skop. Ouens innie mang sallie sy koukie tchappies grand ‘ie (I’ll fuck him up. Guys in prison won’t dig his magic-marker tattoos).”
Coloured people are history’s middlemen – nie te wit ‘ie, nie te swart ‘ie, net reg. It must sound a bit rich to be defending Cape Flat’s culture from appropriation when the entire race springs from interracial banging and slave sex.
But it’s the manner in which Die Anwtoord goes about their business. The whole affair feels aggressive, high-concept and insincere. There’s nothing wrong with Ninja embracing his inner coloured and getting down at Galaxy with his darker-skinned brethren. He just shouldn’t shout that he is all of us. If he continues doing this it’s quite likely that one of Rashied’s friends will find him and kick him in his poes.
Mungo asks a bunch of Grassy Park residents if they’ve heard of Die Antwoord.
All images © Andy Davis