Perfect Sound Forever

DIE ANTWOORD

by Trevor McNeil
(August 2016)


Music is a strange thing. Limited in its scope, there are only so many notes yet it's seemingly endless in its potential combinations. Who would have thought a thing like Chap-Hop could exist or Folk Metal and yet they do. Two other genres one may not readily put together are Rave style EDM and old-school Rap but it also works well together, particularly in the case of South African trio Die Antwoord.

Made up of M.C.s Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yolandi Visser (Arni Du Toit) and D.J. Hi-Tech in Cape Town in 2008, Die Antwoord are unique for a few reasons. They are on of the few all-white Rap groups ever, House of Pain and the Beastie Boys being the other to main examples; they're also one of the few to prominently feature a woman and there has been speculation about who D.J. Hi-Tech actually is, as he performs wearing a mask and there have been no less than three unmasked versions appearing on interviews and music videos. They also exemplify the mainstream version of a style known as "Zef." Started in the late-1970s and named a short-hand name of the Zephyr automobile popular at the time, the term, basically translating to "common", has become slang for a type of poor or lower-middle class white person who still tries to have style, often retro influenced with muscle shirts and gold jewelry being main features. It is different from the British term "Chav" in that it is not overtly negative and is often self-applied.

Of course, aside from this, and the elephant of the room of Afrikaners working in a traditionally black genre, there is the visual style of the band which is intentionally bizarre. The best example of this can be found in the video for the track "Pitbull" which has Ninja in make-up to make his head look like that of a pitbull terrier, breaking free of a leash and going on a bloody rampage on the streets of Cape Town. Then there is "Cookie Thumpin'" which tells the more than a little creepy story of a school-girl in love with her heroin dealer. Shocking but as mentioned, intentionally so, Ninja have stated in interviews that one should use art to shock people, a sentiment also expressed by legendary Speculative Fiction author Harlan Ellison. An effect surely lessened by too much explanation, which is likely why Ninja often contradicts himself with regard to the group's background and refuses to specify what the bands name means outside the literal English translation of "The Answer."

But none of this should be allowed to overshadow the music. The fact is that the beats are solid and the rhymes tight with sometimes surprising counter-points. One of the key examples in this last element being "Enter the Ninja," which opens with Yolandi singing the the chorus, her child-like voice and rolling Afrikaans accent only adding to the texture when Ninja kicks in with the first verse with super-fast, American-style rhymes. This is also the case in "Pitbull" which has a call-and-response element, Ninja nearly barking his line "I'm a pitbull" and Yolandi nearly whispering her response "terrier."

While not all of their songs are in English, and some that involve large sections of Afrikaans, this is not really an issue, the overall sound, roll and flow fitting well into the Rap context. It just seems to fit, which is part of the reason that their songs in English (clearly their second language) work as well as they do.


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