Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Decoding "Die Antwoord" - South Africa’s New White Shocker - by White Shaka

It’s all about aliens, you’ll see. By Alan Brody

If disbelieving colleagues or your hip hop-friendly kids haven’t told you, the hottest thing on the "Interweb" is a wacky rap/rave duo called Die Antwoord from South Africa. What makes them so unique is the absolute filth coming out of their mouths, their white trash looks, modern primitivism and borderline amateurish performances that make for compelling, uproariously funny videos.

As rappers, they are not quite Jay-Z and as movers they are hardly Beyonce. Yet they spit out a riveting patter in a crude, obscure language that sounds like pidgin Klingon with extra gutturals.

The fact that they are all white and at the same time, lowlifes from Africa is an image we haven’t encountered before. In their opening video, Enter the Ninja, they also introduce the ghostly, rocking image of the world’s oldest Progeria survivor.

The net result is a kind of Mad Max, post-apocalyptic residue of degenerate white ravers abandoned in Africa.

Must the Gods Be that Crazy?

In a way they are. Watkins “Waddy” Tudor Jones, a/k/a Ninja, looks as skinny as George Orwell in his “Down and Out in London and Paris” days crossed with the truculence of a young Hitler. He is swathed in cheap jailhouse tattoos and, as his real name suggests, is a middle class fellow with a very fancy sounding, non-Afrikaner name. His sidekick, the eerie-voiced Yolandi Vi$$er who comes with Salvation Army couture, an atrociously hacked hairdo, Afrikaner name and a thing for white mice, is another assault on the senses.

Their disgusting references would blanche a sailor while Ninja’s willingness to peek-a-boo his privates or Yolandi’s occasional baring of her behind in public are pure shock.

Yet they are obviously more educated than they appear - as indeed they are. In fact, they a performance art couple that dabbled for years in white, mock hip hop music rooted in South Africa’s Cape town region under the moniker of Max Normal. They champion something called Zef style – white trash chic from our Cradle of Man continent taken to a new subterranean low.

This is a headscratcher, a guilty laugh for the uninitiated and something that brings on a disbelieving howl from actual South Africans. Natives could have no more imagined hearing Cape flats trash talk in the raver nightclubbing scene than to hear the Queen Mother speaking ghetto.

Yet there is a twist to it all that keeps people intrigued - even if they get that it’s more put-on than an exotic new kind of parolee patois. Even if they get that it might be a wacky response to the country's notorious crime issues - a kind of strident puffing of the cornered white redux.

It’s that talk about aliens that gives their odd vision away – even if a first it just sounds like more Waddy whack. This is not just Borat goes to Table Bay. The giveaway is that “the coolest guy” in Waddy’s world, is Neil Blomkamp, the director of District 9 who is also directing their next video.

District 9 is an inside joke about an area in Cape Town as well as a view of aliens as truly alien – not friendly-looking ET’s but low-rent, supersized shrimp with nasty demeanours, a dubious if, advanced technology and a thing for cat food.

That is ultimately what makes these people fascinating – they are in effect, channeling the alien creatures of District 9. This is, in itself is a play on the tragic District 6, a working-class district in Cape Town made up of what the apartheid government once considered "aliens" – Cape Coloureds - that mixture of whites, indigenous Hottentonts, migrating African Xhosas and former Malay slaves that challenged the separation-of-races ideology of apartheid. These people have a distinct dialect that can sound like a crude and sometimes mocking version of the former ruling white Afrikaner’s language. In the 1960’s they were pushed out of the portside district near central Cape Town to a barren area behind the signature Table mountain and its series of peaks – or “kraanse” in Afrikaans.

Die Atwoord's conceit is that if aliens are a base crew with a guttural language (in District 9 they sound like a race that speaks through a vacuum cleaner) with depraved standards well then, humanities redux may be in a better position to deal with aliens than the usual crew of pretentious, high-faluting sweet talkers with forked tongue.

The message is that, by finding their inner coloured and expressing their coarse inner being, these white people plus the occasional black African, become more in line with the true nature of aliens. Those familiar with UFO literature know that for all the glowing talk about “Grays” and “Nordics” it is the anticipation of the truly skin-crawling kind of aliens known as “Reptilians” or "Reptoids" that requires a drastic human adjustment. Even the mispronunciation of their name, as in Die Ant-ward is a reference to alien subjugation.

So, their message to you is Wakker Word - Wake Up! This is training wheels for alien encounters - if not actual invasion – of the absurd kind.

Hence their name, Die Antwoord (pronounced “Dee Unt –VOORD) which means “The Answer.” In one video someone asks, the answer to what: “whatever,” says Ninja.

In fact, their name is a line out of the surviving Afrikaner national anthem that was shotgun married to the ruling African National Congress’ Xhosa language anthem that now makes up the country’s national song.

“Uit onse ewige gebergtes,

Waar die kraanse antwoord gee.”


“Over everlasting mountains,

where the cliffs give their answer.”

Their answer – although the joke is they are not actually showing it - is the biracial future. In this case, it is through their words as a kind of foul-mouthed Obama. It shows up their very first video where Ninja talks about all the races of Southern Africa – black, white, Hottentot, Bushman, Indian & Malay all smooshed into one. Not his exact word, of course, but you get it. To the foreign eye this is just the poor white detritus of post-colonial Africa married Cape Flats coloured gang talk. It’s not pretty which in this age makes it seem funny.

Like the poor Afrikaner whites who are the losers of post-colonialism, the coloureds also carry their own special tradition of seething anger. It their case they were unloved by the blacks and abandoned by the Afrikaner whites who at one point officially called them Cape Basters (bastards) although they share their language. Even today, the Coloureds congregate in a distinct area with their own culture. Die Antwood taps the intersection of the gangland version of their dialect with low-life whites, mad art with alien trash talk, castoff clothes and demented Haring-like graphics to send out this message:

Welkom vreemdelinge. Ons is sleg. Ernstig op.

“Welcome aliens. We’re bad. Seriously.”