About six months ago my nephew in South Africa sent me a link to what he warned me was a rude video. I took a look briefly and it was kind of funny.
Then the other day in The Times I saw a positive review of a South African band performing explicit songs on Governors’ Island, and putting two and two together, I realized they were the band my nephew pointed out. I just checked them out on the internet and suddenly got quite patriotically sentimental.
Most foreign bands try hard to sound American. I listened to a Stones song on the car radio the other day (Wild Horses and then You Can’t Always Get What You Want) and was struck by how American they sounded. It’s effective, but it’s a kind of envy and inauthenticity nevertheless. Everyone in show business tries to sound like they come from the center.
What I liked in my brief visit to Die Antwoord (it means The Answer in Afrikaans) is their unashamed localness. They’re confident enough to not try to adjust their vocabulary and references to be understandable by strangers. Their website is really funny, at least to me — a kind of South African rap performed by what seem to be (what were called) “poor whites” when I lived there. They’re unashamedly (actually proudly) trashy. They swear in a very local patois.
Actually, I may be being fooled: they are pretty professional and so this kind of white trash patina may be an act, I don’t know.
I once read The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey and was impressed, in addition to the plot, by his unselfconscious use of an Australian milieu. If you write a book set in London you don’t have to explain to the reader what Bond St is. He treated Sydney the same way twenty years ago. And Die Antwoord seem to treat South Africa similarly. Of course, South Africa isn’t any more the unknown cultural place it was when I lived there. When I came to New York you couldn’t buy a travel book on South Africa. Now there are ones on Cape Town alone.
Listening to their website, I was charmed by the South African familiar high-school dirty-talk flavor of Die Antwoord. I never particularly liked rap, but this was local stuff and ingrained in me , and I suddenly could glimpse the charm of rap to people for whom the references were familiar too.