Mavis Vermaakby Roger Young / 14.01.2010
In Mavis Vermaak’s self titled album there is a dusky world, like driving somewhere, an aroma on the wind causing you to feel something distant and unspecified. Maybe it’s because my grasp on the nuances of Afrikaans are slight, maybe because I don’t totally understand what she is singing about, but the overall result of listening to Mavis Vermaak’s ambient electronica-ish almost-but-not-quite spoken word acoustic folk-esque debut is longing, a yearning for something exquisitely out of reach.
The effect lies not only in the seamless production, the stylistic unity that never resorts to sameness, the always building in waves nature of the songs but also in Vermaak’s offsetting of simple phrases such as, “gebraai, geswem, gedrink” that evoke common memories with the more complex nuances of, “16 februarie 2007, in die jaar van jou Here”, the “jou” delivered with a bitterness verging on disappointment.
Vermaak has a hypnotic voice; yet she softens the language without removing the menace. The throbbing bass and occasional cricketing trip hop sounds drive her spoken verses, which then break into breathy chorus, perfectly evoking specifically and precisely the titular kaapstadslaapstad of the second track. The lazy djembe and guitar on “Hei” become urgent, the disdain and the desire in her delivery make for a lush tension, calling to mind half forgotten dreams. I could wax on hyperbolically for hours about these five tracks; suffice it to say that Vermaak sonically embodies something so simultaneously thought provoking and emotionally sensual that male Afrikaans intellectuals everywhere must be creaming their pants.
The song that most concisely sums the album up is “Diep Kaleidoskoop” which has a breath like a saw, running through djembe’s and didgeridoos, slowing down deurmekaar with candy floss evenings in Tafel Baai and arriving in a jumpstep smile to proclaim, “Ek steek my tong uit” (a sentiment that echoes in the hidden track).
I speak of Vermaak as if I understand totally what she is saying, but I do not, all I understand of this, (I hesitate to even call it an album, so short it is) release is that the ripples of emotional memory it calls up for me are both satisfying and disquieting. Partially because of it’s brevity and its linguistic inaccessibly (to me at least), but also because it hides a sly musical playfulness within its sincere sunset yearnings Mavis Vermaak’s is the most beguiling new album I have heard for a very long time.
Take a listen here.
Or click click Rhythm Online to buy the album here.