/ 1 June 2012

Sounds of satirical sokkie

Faking it: Die Skynmaagde’s Wilken Calitz and Henry Cloete.
Faking it: Die Skynmaagde’s Wilken Calitz and Henry Cloete.

Last July a good friend had to DJ at a party after an academic conference at which SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande was the keynote speaker. Even though Nzimande came to thank him for his cool music later in the evening, he never managed to get the top communist to dance with students and academics.

It is a pity that the new “post-apocalyptic ­Afrikaans folk-grunge” duo Die ­Skynmaagde’s song, Kommunis Sokkie (Communist Dance) was not available then because it is the infectious kind of song that would have had everyone from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat painting the dance floor red.

But then, the satire used as the lyrical and musical means of production by Die Skynmaagde (or fake virgins) might have alienated Comrade Blade.

Comprising Wilken Calitz, a fulltime musician, and journalist Henry Cloete, Die Skynmaagde have just released their debut EP, Alombemind en Aan Bewind (Loved by All and in Office). The six-track mini-album brings the long tradition of satire in popular music by artists such as Frank Zappa, the Dead ­Kennedys, the Residents, They Might Be Giants, the Lonely Island, Flight of the Conchords and Tim Minchin, via Bernoldus Niemand, to contemporary Afrikaans music.

In the centrepiece of the EP, ­Kommunis Sokkie, Die Skynmaagde masterfully sample musical and lyrical conventions and clichés from both traditional and current Afrikaans songs and turn them on their heads, for example “my ding” (my thing) and “baby ek het jou lief” (baby I love you).

It is a hook-laden dance song with a sokkie rhythm that would not be out of place at a boere wedding, as long as the guests do not listen to the lyrics.

The band juxtaposes the banal from Afrikaans music knowingly and playfully with Marxist concepts and communist heroes like an odd couple that floats with surprising elegance across a dancefloor — ek wil jou rokkie ophef soos die werkersklas (I want to raise your dress like the working class) and Oom Chris Hani, wil jy nie nader staan nie/ want my baby stem DA en ek kan dit nie verstaan nie (Uncle Chris Hani, don’t you want to come closer and help, because my baby votes DA and I can’t understand why).

“We sat drinking one night,” Cloete explained in a telephonic interview, “and we started playing with concepts, playing improbabilities off against one another, like kaal (naked) and Karl as in Marx, things we found funny and that could rhyme … and that led to our Communist sokkie!”

Cloete chuckled when I ask him to visualise this sokkie: “In my mind I can see a bunch of bearded guys dancing, dignified, but with rhythm …”

Cloete and Calitz met seven years ago in Khayelitsha where they were working for Habitat for Humanity and discovered a shared love for music.

“We started a dark acoustic act. We dumped that idea after a while and then started writing the new songs last year sometime. They were less depressing and more Afrikaans … and sometimes funny.”

Recorded at the Invisible Nightclub studio in Cape Town, the band sticks in the new EP to “the two guitars, two vocals vibe, but every song is a different story, a different style, so it is hard to describe”.

“We tried something completely different with every track, so it is an experiment for us. Luckily it has been going fairly well.”

It subverts the SABC television news signature tune in flamenco style on ­Ballade van ’n Nuusleser (Ballad of a Newsreader), does a jolly knees-up hoedown in Winter in my Hart with its contrasting depressing lyrics trane lê vlak/ en ek haat myself vandag (tears are close and I hate myself today) and a cutting Becklike acoustic rap on ’n Boodskap van die Departement van Gesondheid (A Message from the Department of Health): Moenie jou probleem ons probleem maak nie/ ons is altyd vreeslik besig met die een of ander taak/ so fok jou as jy in die eerste plek siek raak. (Don’t make your problem ours, we are always very busy with one or other task, so fuck you if you become ill in the first place.)

Although the other songs are clever, it is the anthemic Kommunis Sokkie that — understandably — has left-leaning taste-makers and trendsetters such as musician Anton Goosen and political commentator Max du Preez astir on social media.

On Friday, Die Skynmaagde have their first big jol at the Dorpstraat Theatre in Stellenbosch and it promises to get the fans doing the sokkie — proof that ­satire not only gets people to march, but also gets them to dance.

The Alombemind en aan Bewind EP is available at the Rhythm Records online music store