It was almost luck that I got to catch two musical documentaries at the recent Silwerskerm Fees. Musical prophet Danie Marais pointed the way and it was an extraordinary morning of two remarkable musical documents anyone interested in local music should try to see. Sadly, even at this festival, the attendance for these two searing films on the way music is used and abused was dismal – not even the local press seemed interested. DIANE DE BEER reviews and reveals more about MUTANT and DIE ONGETEMDE STEM:
Mutant pictures: Christian Imraan
Die Ongetemde Stem pictures: screen grabs
Mutant (directed and conceived by Lebogang Rasethaba and Nthato Mokgato) isn’t for the fainthearted. The Festival guide describes it as an intimate portrait of one of South Africa’s most outspoken and controversial artists and the turbulent, dangerous world he lives in.
I’m not in a position to dispute that, but I was gripped from beginning to end by what is described as an exploration of the rapper Isaac Mutant’s roots in the notorious violence-stricken Cape Flats of Cape Town, as well as his current situation.
This is an activist with a voice, articulate and angry yet reasoned when he explains that while he hates white people, he doesn’t want to kill them. “I just want to live or I would be like the evils I’m trying to fight.”
And he is coming from his reality, living in what he describes as “freedom” in a shack on Hangberg with the affluent Hout Bay and the harbour staring him in the face.
“I just want to live and I suppose everyone just wants to live,” he reinforces.
Still living in a country where apartheid determines lives, Isaac was directed by his sister, who saw him struggling with his anger, to turn to music. “Vent your anger into music,” and while many of his peers describe his lyrics as “hitting the nail too hard”, this is someone who is commenting on the life he lives and the one he experiences every day.
With his music he informs, he speaks his mind; and if democracy isn’t there to protect and nourish at least those dreams, what is the struggle for?
As another artist remarks, she doesn’t necessarily agree with what he is saying, but she admires Mutant for speaking his mind. Agreed!
And for those far removed from this world, it is an education, perhaps a harsh one, but in the separated worlds we still live in today, it’s invaluable. Are we just going to push people who are suffering away and hope the problem resolves itself, or do we at least engage and listen and hopefully understand and embrace?
As a representative for farmworkers explains: When one farmer dies, the world takes notice, but the deaths of farmworkers on a weekly basis are ignored. “Whose life is more valuable?” she asks.
And that is what Isaac Mutant is fighting for. He might say things that those of us who are privileged don’t want to hear, but the least we can do is listen.
Or, as the man himself notes: “Let’s not talk, just give it back, give it all back. Everything that was taken away.”
We’re talking about a system which classified people along racial lines. And in those times, this mixed race man was considered black. It’s something he has identified with all his life.
But now, in this new country, he feels he is being shifted along racial lines once again. No longer is he considered black, now he has to identify as coloured.
And these are just some of the issues on the line. And the reason that Mutant has to be watched and Isaac Mutant has to be listened to.
The film is still on a festival run and has recently been submitted to Netflix and Comcast for potential licensing deals.
The next festivals to screen it are: Blackstar Film Festival (USA); Rock This Town (France); and
Musical Ecran (France).
On a very different note yet with many of the same issues Die Ongetemde Stem takes a hard and uncompromising look at the Afrikaans music industry and the racial imbalances that still persist almost 30 years into our democracy.
Fraser Barry, Jolyn Phillips and Churchil Naudé, all who have been sidelined.
One would think that especially when people have a language in common, inclusion would be a given particularly with our past. I was shocked, for example, to hear that someone like the articulate Churchil Naudé who uses his music to express particular feelings, still feels side-lined.
Even if his music is not going to slot into some sections of Afrikaans music, that’s true of many singers, black and white, or are we still in this new century going to judge on colour? Surely not?
In this new era, rapidly becoming old, everyone writing and performing in a particular language should be embraced. And as the documentary points out, this battle was fought many decades ago by Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band when they broke through the boundaries of traditional Afrikaans music, which was often translated from European songs and determined by a self-imposed vanguard of elders.
But let Riku Lätti tell the story: “It came to us almost completely by accident while we were busy filming interviews and live performances by a multitude of mostly, but not exclusively, Afrikaans singer-songwriters as Die Wasgoedlyn.
“Die Wasgoedlyn was a project that originated because I realised that the Afrikaans music that I liked and the Afrikaans music that received airtime and public attention could not be further apart. I discovered, partly by virtue of being an Afrikaans music creator myself, connected and known to many other creators of original Afrikaans music, and partly because I started the investigation, that there is a magdom (please let’s submit that word to English dictionaries) decent Afrikaans music that for the lack of a better term could be referred to as Alternatiewe Afrikaans.
“So Alternatiewe Afrikaans becomes a huge category from hard rock, punk, industrial, electronic, to all the way gritty folk and darker country, hip-hop, Goema, Afrikana (think old-school (and thought of as inappropriate by the Afrikaans music police) boeremusiek like Die Briels en Koos Doep). Basically every kind of Afrikaans music that you wouldn’t hear on commercial radio stations. Those are all the styles that I have a personal affinity towards, but never got to hear unless you actually go to the concerts of these musicians and go to see them personally.
Some of the vocal participants in the documentary.
“Many of my favourite Afrikaans artists I set out to go see personally. I asked them if I could record their music with my mobile recording studio sommer at their homes or wherever we had the good fortune to be. I released hundreds of these tunes and you can go listen to them if you search for Wasgoedlyn on youtube or itunes, or spotify. Basically, wherever you listen to music online.
“These recordings by the original artists have a stripped down quality to it, a rawness, a cut- to-the-bone grainy atmosphere, that the environment provides, since these tunes where not recorded in pristine soundproof studios (Go listen to Wasgoedlyn Volume 1 – 3 online you will hear what I mean).”
As David Kramer also reminded us in the documentary (and live as part of the too small audience), Afrikaans was appropriated by the white elite while the origins of the language lay within the brown communities. And again, that was the problem for those who had the power to decide what would be played at the SABC.
Either way, the thing that should in this new millennium be the motivator, is the riches that the different communities bring to the language. We are a country that should be embracing all our artists because our diversity adds to the richness that will then emerge on our stages, in our literature, in our music and on our canvasses or in our sculptures.
We have tried separating and proved that it doesn’t bring solace to any particular group. It is our diversity that brings strength as this documentary shows so magnificently! And even the recent Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees again showed how the diversity on the stages added to the stories and songs that enveloped and enchanted audiences.
And that is what Die Ongetemde Stem celebrates.
It will be shown at a South African, Australian, New Zealand film festival in May in Melbourne but also online at: