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Die See

by Nadine Theron / 21.06.2011

Die See, believe it or not, are a Pretoria based band. You don’t have to be completely Afrikaans to know that the name and the place are very far removed. The poetic foundation of a name as enchanting as that puts them at an unfair advantage before their music has even been heard. So does the album-cover. If you didn’t know there was a SAMA category for best designed album-cover, this obscure little debut was nominated for its coveted polished black sleeve from which a pearly abalone shell shines bright. A number of the songs on the self-titled debut album are fished from their name. Which all has nothing to do with Pretoria. And at the same time it has everything to do with Pretoria and the mood and the tone set by Die See’s music.

Their single, or as close as any song from this genre is to becoming a hit, “Vrystaat”, was named by Mail & Guardian writer Lloyd Gedye as his song of the year. Simple in lyrical content but heaving with sensual anger, it intimately searches for freedom and forgiveness (they go hand-in-hand for us Afrikaners). Not only is the sound neo-boere-bedrog (in other words, post-Belville Afrikaans music), the band members are slightly older too and a bit over it, whatever it is, in general. “African Americana” as Gedye called it and wrote a whole feature on the genre. A lot of their fans, like him, are English. Just like being in Pretoria fosters an idolatry of the sea, so does not being in Pretoria contribute to an attachment to the band. Fans are mostly un-Pretorian. It’s bluesy, it’s sinister, it’s as Afrikana as the collected works of literature from the printing press that goes by that name.

On this album, Die See’s debut, they sing about the Pretorian garden summers, the joy of a swimming pool and the ice-cream vans in the suburbs in a grimy and frustrated way. Like an ice-cream melting in his heart, Henry Cadle Ferreira, the singer, groans. But it’s also about the sea. The sea, for Pretorians and Vaalies in general, holds the promise of happiness, sunshine,holidays and good times… The sea is the ultimate if you’re in Pretoria. “Almal wil ’n huisie by die see hê”, sang Koos Kombuis, who went to school in Pretoria. Nostalgic, somber but not negative, yet longing for that which you only get doused in once a year. Although you know it’s there all year long, it does not belong to you nor do you belong to it. Pretorians singing about the sea like a virgin writing a book on her sex life. The feeling is empty but filled with promise of what you are missing out on. Not having something preoccupies the mind, and the constant longing for that is often integral to a person’s existence.

“McDougall’s Baai” is a half-way instrumental, a pit-stop of song en-route. Time for reflection on the first half of the album. It was written about a small beach on the West Coast. The lyrics on the album are generally simplistic and perhaps too simple. A bit depressing at times, but just before the drowning vocals become unbearable a lighter song is strummed in and the vision of an old man mumbling about the state of our nation under his breath as he walks away. Lyrically, and maybe this is why an English speaking South African has so far been the biggest evangelist of the album, it doesn’t quite provide as much poetry as the music, the name and the album cover suggest it should. You have to fish deeper than the words and make your own meaning to justify the relation. Images evoked by the music leave me of quotes scribbled in a moleskine after a walk on the beach and then looked at during quiet moments in a Jakaranda-shaded garden.

You can take Die See out of Pretoria, but you can’t take Pretoria out of Die See.

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