News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday March 26th 2019

Twakkie zeffer than Ninja? Dis Die Antwoord

Caitlin Ross

South African blue collar culture has been yanked out from behind the boerewors curtain and rocketed to international celebrity by a number of local acts recently, but most significantly by Afrikaans rap-rave outfit and internet phenomenon Die Antwoord.

Die Antwoord, whose “next level interwebsite” has received over 20 million hits in the last month (within the first four days of their sudden success their server crashed and had to switch to a US-based server), describe themselves and way of life as zef. If you haven’t heard the word before, you’ll know it when you see it. You may have called it common, or white trash, or poor white. But the lifestyle is not being anxiously nudged under the carpet of national identity for fear of shame. Far from it, Die Antwoord and their associates, like underground superstar rapper Jack Parow, champion their “inner zef”, which they say is in us all, with unflagging pride. If you are sitting in your boxer shorts right now, you are a bit zef. If you are holding a glass of brandy and coke, you are probably zef. If you have mounted a spoiler on your 1989 Mazda, you are very zef indeed.

The best depictions of zef are to be found in the lyrics of Die Antwoord’s songs, the most descriptive of which cannot be replicated here without being censored for indecency. However, as frontman Ninja, previously of highly successful music group MaxNormal, elucidates in the preamble to “Enter the Ninja” (the lyrics of which American pop-sensation Katy Perry posted on her twitter page, helping trigger the avalanche of popularity), he is the product of the many cultures in South Africa, containing a piece of them all – making him a kind of Frankenstein of subcultures. And Frankenstein has come alive.

It could be assumed that, given the content, language and references in the music that Die Antwoord would only appeal to, and make sense to, a South African audience, but articles in the Guardian UK, New York Times, and hundreds of comments on their YouTube videos reflect global fascination – fans from all over Europe and America ask if anyone will translate the words for them.

One of those pieces that contributed to the greater body of zef, and one of the first acts to strike mainstream success, was comedy duo Corné & Twakkie (the creations of actors Rob van Vuuren and Louw Venter) whose The Most Amazing Show toured the country and in 2006 aired on Tuesday nights on SABC2. Corné and Twakkie have been wearing extravagant fake moustaches and tight school hockey shorts since they met in a caravan park in Bronkhorstspruit. Or so the story goes.

Van Vuuren agreed that the zef culture movement has been in the making for years now, and that various artists had contributed to it, whether or not they had wanted to.
“Koos Kombuis has been vocally anti-Antwoord but without him and Voëlvry it wouldn’t exist. It’s about accepting that culture and celebrating it. It gives a voice to a voiceless generation who were ridiculed, ashamed and confused about their background. They don’t feel they have to pander to some American aesthetic,” he said.

When Van Vuuren first saw one of Die Antwoord’s videos he contacted Ninja to congratulate him, and Ninja’s response was “You and Corné spawned Ninja, you know”. Van Vuuren said he could see the influence of Corné & Twakkie on the evolution of Die Antwoord. “Ninja is Twakkie’s bigger, badder cousin who did bad but made good,” he said.

Concerning the chorus of South Africans who have taken offence to Die Antwoord or been preoccupied with the question of whether or not it is “real”, Van Vuuren said the issues were perhaps too close to home for some to appreciate the irony, and that most of the work is done with a sense of humour.
“Die Antwoord is authentic in its virtuosity. It doesn’t matter anymore. People will accept his creative genius and accept that mad scientist behind it. Ninja has mad skills, it’s brilliant, he’s world class,” he said. And considering Ninja has covered himself in bad, home-made tattoos, the argument for authenticity is lent extra weight. “It’s his commitment to the persona that makes it real,” he said.

Despite The Most Amazing Show’s comparatively tame language and subject matter, Van Vuuren was on the receiving end of similar outrage by people offended by show.
“People said we were taking the piss, that we were disrespecting their culture. The thing is, with something like this, your audience is going to be polarised. Either they love you a lot or they hate you a lot. If you’re not pissing someone off, if they’re lukewarm about you, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not interesting anymore,” he said.

After a two-year hiatus, Corné & Twakkie are performing again. Van Vuuren is the director of up-and-coming comedian Shimmy Isaacs’ show Allie Pad Funny Worcestor, showing at the Baxter Theatre, as part of the Ikhwezi Theatre Festival on 13, 18 and 20 March.

Tags: Corne and Twakkie, Die Antwoord, Ninja, white trash, zef, zef culture

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One Response to “Twakkie zeffer than Ninja? Dis Die Antwoord”

  1. Hahaha, this stuff is so funny. I need to share this.

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