An old ice-cream van with Soft Serve still emblazoned on the sides pulls up to the Oppikoppi campsite. The doors open and a bunch of supercool young black kids, squeezed into gold lamé and flaunting diamanté headphones, elegantly tumble out into the dusty bushveld. ”Jirre,” says a guy wearing a Van Coke Kartel T-shirt, ”it doesn’t look like they’re serving vanilla today.”
There were mumblings about this year’s theme, Smoorverlief, being avowedly Afrikaans in an attempt to reclaim some mythical lost territory. There was even discontent about the unveiling of the Oppikoppi National Monument. But, for a music festival that people have been typecasting as Afrikaner centric for the past 15 years, Oppikoppi 2009 is multicultural, despite itself.
Evidence of this is there if you choose to look, from the mundane to the elevated. A hungry punter passing through the food area grumbles: ”Crumbed mushrooms. Veggie stir-fry. Organic fucking coffee! And everyone’s speaking English! I thought this was an Afrikaans festival.”
Thandiswa Mazwai, in what must be an Oppikoppi first, dedicates a song to Winnie Mandela. This, after responding to hecklers calling for Michael Jackson by doing an impromptu and awesome snippet of Beat It. And following that by telling the story of her lunch seated between Nelson Mandela and Wacko Jacko, possibly the two least threatening black men in the world to white people above a certain age and height, which entirely wins over the audience. Especially when she concludes the anecdote, on this Women’s Day, by crowing: ”Yeah, I’m the man.”
Of course, a change in diet and a few wisecracking hot black women do not a multicultural revolution make. But do we really need another damn cultural revolution, multi or not? So what if rock bands are predominantly white and the wonderful Blk Jks (not at the festival, alas) are the exception to the Aryan rule? So what if kwaito fans are mostly black. There are more insidious forces we need to be battling.
As photographer Liam Lynch commented about Reeburth, an average metal band from Soweto: ”If they were white, people wouldn’t think they deserved to play a primetime slot.” There are fears that black bands, playing what we could laughingly call traditionally white music (”me daddy played grunge, and his daddy afore him, arr”), will be appreciated for their novelty value, rather than their talent. Justin Ontong with a bass guitar instead of a bat, if you will.
Unlike race, culture isn’t really something you can legislate for, even though the two can be synonymous in many respects. At a music festival, affirmative action should be less about affirmation and more about alcohol action. This isn’t to say that genres can’t be appropriated by whoever the hell wants to do so, or even transcend the notional and frankly ridiculous idea of a music that’s identified with race.
But it’s a process of natural attrition, rather than an arena where we always have to contest cultural identities. The music itself does that, as do the musicians: boerepop will eat itself. What I’m saying is, to all those hidebound wankers who’re always complaining that Oppikoppi is such a white, Afrikaans festival — so what, and anyway it’s not. I’m aware that’s a contradiction but, hey, that’s art.
There are gentle examples, such as the enormous talents of Piet Botha and Vusi Mahlasela sharing the Levi’s stage. But a more aggressive example is the insane hip-hop duo Die Antwoord, an ostensibly pre-pubescent blonde waif and a self-tattooed lunatic doing what music critic Miles Keylock refers to as ”bling-hop deconstruction”. They’re interrogating hip-hop, but even more, they’re attacking the very notion of wiggas (white kids trying to be niggas, for those who’ve been asleep under a Celine Dion duvet for the past few years).
And respect to South African hard rock icons Fokofpolisiekar for collaborating on Doosdronk with Die Antwoord, a song that ends with Waddy Jones beating up his wife onstage for Women’s Day. It’s politically charged satire that might go over the spinning heads of much of the audience, but some of them will get it: in the sexism stakes, rock has as much to answer for as the unfairly singled out hip-hop genre.
On the last morning I spot the Soft Serve van full of black kids being towed out of the dustbowl by a small Citi Golf driven by a gangly white kid. Is that a metaphor for anything but the longevity of brands? Probably not, but it’s a good way to end a festival. Not for them, obviously, but certainly for someone older and full of hope.
To watch videos of Die Antwoord and Reeburth, go to Speakerbox.co.za