Die Antwoord: A "religious experience"

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In Cape Town's city centre a pair of bright orange crocs and an oversized reggae-coloured Hawaiian shirt that barely covers a prison-tat-inked chest strolls down Keeromstreet.

He gets stopped by a balding dark-suit lawyer’s spectacles. “Can I take a picture with you?” the suit asks. “I saw your videos, I love it.”

The rapper obliges.

“Jissis. I thought, what did I do wrong now,” he mumbles when the impromptu photo shoot is done.

The rapper searches for his colleague, friend and mother of his child, Yo-Landi. She’s about a hundred metres ahead, looking for an alley to execute an official photo shoot in.

Ninja, frontman, and the drive behind Die Antwoord (literally, The Answer), quickens the pace.

“Jirre Garlic,” he says as he turns to his colleague Garlic (Knoffel, from Die Antwoord's massively popular track "Wie Maak Die Jol Vol"), “this shit is going crazy. They want us to come tour everywhere. I have to get an accountant now! The labels are having a bidding war, bra. In one week, this thing’s fucking exploded!"

“Theeerreee's this new art ensaaamble from South Affrriica cawwlled Die Antwooorrhd,” he mocks the accent of the American presenter of Attack Of The Show, which served as one of Die Antwoord's many springboards to instant internet fame. Garlic giggles, his impressive head of dreads glistening in the sun.

Down the road, in the corner booth of Long Street’s Purple Turtle, the zef rap-raving couple of Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er seem rather unfazed by the storm of demand that’s broken out around them. In stark contrast with Die Antwoord's website, that’s crashed at least once due to the millions of visitors.

Yo-Landi passively pets the baby white rat that makes its home in the front pouch of her bright red dungaree. Ninja digs his golden molars into an unsuspecting bun. Not the fok did they expect this kind of popularity to break out, he says.

“I guess it’s because it’s so new,” Yo-Landi ponders. “It’s not like any other rap out there.”

“The world is suffering from an information overload,” says the slightly more philosophical Ninja. The golden dolphin attached to his left earlobe dangles vigorously in mid-air. “How do you penetrate that? We’ve made something. Something that cuts through that like a laser,” as he straightens his arm, revealing more lyrical tattoos.

To the point that this potty-mouthed group (completed by their third member and birth mother of beats DJ Hi-Tek) that raps mostly in Afrikaans even has Fred Durst and Katie Perry tweeting lyrically about the phenomenon that is Die Antwoord. Fans are likening them to legendary groundbreaking acts such as the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Millions have visited their website and favourited their videos on YouTube.

“What the fuck just happened,” seems to be a popular comment to leave for the videos (most popular are "Zef Side", "Enter the Ninja" and "Wat Pomp", with “Why can’t I stop watching this!” in a close second place).

Whether it's Ninja and Yo-Landi's rapping abilities – the rhymes bounce off the rhythms like Caster Semenya's calves off the tarmac – or the hybrids of vocal and heavily synthesised instrumentals that keep listeners looping, Zef Rap-Rave is the latest newly coined genre to be assimilated in the English language.

Urban Dictionary doesn’t contain a proper definition of Zef. And, really, there is no proper definition. It’s mostly associated with what Americans would dub redneck culture in South Africa. Big Trucks, fur on the dashboard, golden teeth, constant fights and a lingo of its own ­– the works.

In South Africa, their debut album $O$ arrived quietly on the internet, following an exhilarating debut at the Ramfest at Worcester, Western Cape, in early 2009, where they annexed the stage with near-veteran rock act Fokofpolisiekar and fellow rapper Jack Parow.

With Ninja bouncing around like a Gollum on speed between stage-diving, acting out a drunken domestic fist fight with Yo-Landi and joining his colleagues in a ballistic top-of-the-voice shouting of the “Party party Party party” rhyme, the scene was, to say the least, unusual.

Veteran local music journalists such as Annie Klopper immediately picked up on the carnivalesque, satirical element of Die Antwoord.

The road of Die Antwoord started long before that electrifying first gig, though. Various elements had to fall into place for this bullet to be fired into cyberspace.

“We actually started working on a movie about two years ago,” Ninja says.“The main character was a guy called Ninja. He was just, like, the zeffest guy ever. At some point I realised – fuck, this guy is just so much cooler than me. So I got into him, just like Wikus van der Merwe into that robot in District 9. We merged, we became one.” Wide-eyed.

Yo-Landi's baby rat crawls on to her shoulder, pawing at that peroxide-blond mullet.

So Watkin Tudor Jones, or “Waddy” as most familiar locals know him, became The Ninja.

“We tapped into our inner zef,” he says. Inspired by, among others, the website www.Watkykjy.co.za that sets about celebrating Zef culture, in all its foul-mouthed goodness.

“It’s really stripped down, of everything else, every other concept,” Yo-Landi adds.

Other concepts, such as Max Normal.TV, a rap act that included Ninja, Visser and Hi-Tek and that became a household name (albeit in households mostly not reminiscent of those in Suburban Bliss) in South Africa.

Jones as a corporate suit rapping on stage about “Rap made Easy” or “The way of the Dassie” was a cult hit, but never really came from out of the underground - certainly not in the way Die Antwoord has.

This redefining of character, redefining of personas, has many “haters” claiming that Die Antwoord is fake. Die Antwoord is just an act, they say.

Response, Mr Ninja?

“With Die Antwoord, we threw everything else away. All those other concepts. I’ve been in a lot of acts. I’ve been rapping for years. But this is what excites us. It’s a religious experience.”

Energy pulses through him suddenly. He leans forward, those wild eyes find a friend in a devilish smile. “Do you want deep? This is what is deep, bra, I’ll tell you. I love art that is made by kids, by criminals and by retarded people.” He sits back, eyes darting around the joint once more.

 
 
 

That which grows in the underbelly of a dissonant society, some would say. The fresh, the most unusual of unusual. The out-of-the-blue-truth in weirdness that grows in gravitas with the presence of Progerian Leon Botha, at 24 a DJ, artist and photographer, as well as the oldest living survivor of this disease, in their "Enter The Ninja" video.

Warm in its South Africanness. “This is not the rainbow nation – more like the fucking fruit salad,” he bellows, folding his arms.

Not a trace of a smile.

One is tempted into the archaic “social comment” categorising of Die Antwoord.

“No, we’re not on a pluk (a mission),” they shake their heads.

Pushed on their song "Super Evil" that raps about right-wing white supremacist Afrikaner leader Eugene Terre'blanche of the AWB (most famous for falling of a horse after a public meet), they still deny commenting on social issues.

“We just thought it would be funny if Eugene was a satanist rapper who smoked zol and used a piece of boerewors (sausage) for a mic. So we wrote a song about it.”

The alert listener would be deaf, though, not to hear and tap into the satire and outright parody on the self-exalting element of rap culture itself, along with the sharp use of Afrikaans nursery rhyme melodies to emphasise the eerieness.

Though Die Antwoord's debut album is officially scheduled for release only later in February, they’ve already finished writing most of the follow-up album.

When talking of South Africa as a society high on tension, Ninja shouts out: “That’s the name of our next album!” and lifts his right elbow.

There’s the tattoo: Ten$ion.

“But we won’t make more than five albums. We’ll end it at five. We don’t want to be like Madonna, spreading her legs on stage at 50.”

In the meantime, there’s a film about the rise of Die Antwoord in the pipeline, as well as a good heap of international tours later this year.

And the “haters” to deal with. Those who condemn them for being “just an act”. Locally, the haters' qualm is mostly with their heavily explicit language use - the larger Afrikaans community is a relatively conservative one that doesn't appreciate too much singing about their mothers' genitals.

But they’ll keep strolling around the city for “three days at a time”, writing songs as they go, while purists ponder whether this is rap and, maybe, whether this “is art”.

Possibly followed in drunken debate by the inevitable sigh of “What is art?”

And what is the answer, if not a living, breathing, zef rave-rapping piece of (art)work.

With next-level beats ... dawg.


Photos: Annie Klopper

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