The Radio Kalahari Orkes

Let’s talk about the video for the song, “Staan My By” by Die Radio Kalahari Orkes, a South African band that count among its members the controversial author Rian Malan and the actor Ian Roberts (his credits include the movie, “Tsotsi“).  Some might easily dismiss it as a vanity band.

I am somewhat ambivalent about this band’s previous work, but this song (off their forthcoming album ‘Heuningland’) is quite interesting for its use of folk elements in the music (less self-consciously so as in their other stuff – they have on occasion been billed as similar to Bruce Springsteen doing Pete Seeger, somewhat of an oversell.).  Maybe it’s the cross-generational picture of Afrikaner vocalists, set in a somewhat nostalgic yet not quite easily defined (and therefore innocent and ahistorical) past that is strangely appealing. There is Roberts, the korrelkop old man, a fine actor but probably best known for his laconic character in TV commercials for motor oil, the writer and journalist  Malan (My Traitor’s Heart), once a hero for the now fortysomething generation but of late dabbling in dubious politics, including AIDS denialism, and Chris Chameleon, musically much more interesting than the other two, known for his role in the experimental ‘monki punk’ group Boo! in the 90s and lately a solo artist performing adaptations of Afrikaans poetry. A motley ensemble, but endearing perhaps precisely for their nonconformity and heterogeneity which goes some way in undoing Afrikaner stereotypes. Although there is a vulnerability in the lyrics which is refreshingly un-macho for Afrikaans music, its call to ‘stand together’ and ‘not give in’, together with the stirring anthemic chorus, might again give cause to the usual suspects to appropriate it as a neo-nationalist battle cry (the word ‘bittereinde’ in the lyrics evokes the Boers in the South African war who refused to concede defeat). But let’s hope not.



  1. I really like Rian Malan's solo CD, but I'm not very fond of this. It's not very sophisticated in its arrangement or it's percussion.

    I terms of the content. You will see more and more vocal Afrikaners railing against the government in the coming years. And it's better that they are represented by a motley crew of high minded, camp, and punky individuals, than by the usual idiots.

  2. This won't catch on with the anthem loving rightwing De La Rey-crowd precisely because the previous album of the RKO didn't. It is basically two English wannabe boers (both Roberts and Malan grew up as English South Africans) and a pop "star" with a name like Chameleon who used to perform in dresses, singing a song trying to be a hard boiled Afrikaans kanniedood anthem.

    It's amusing but it is not the real thing by a mile. The real thing is frankly much uglier. See "Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika" by Wessels and Van Blerk.

    For me Chameleon is not so interesting musically. I find him to be very opportunistic in the industry and his melodic talents pretty limited. He also sounds like he had one too many elocution lessons. I found Malan's solo CD, warts and all, much more interesting. But it didn't sell.

  3. Well I agree this is not HUGELY interesting, musically speaking, but it's exactly because it is not 'the real thing' as a ne0-Boer anthem (thank the Lord for that, we need another De la Rey like we need another Zille or Malema) but something more ambivalent that I find it rather charming. As for wannabe-Boers, I don't care about that, I abhor pure this or that and Afrikaners would do well to realise they're all creoles anyway.
    But sure, it may be nice but it's not the best thing since David Kramer. Now there's a wannabe Boer that knew the Afrikaner psyche – and only sold well because he was misunderstood (when he wasn't being opportunistic, anyway)

  4. Ja, sure, I'm talking about perceptions when I'm saying real boer or wannabe-boer, not reality. I think the market makes that distinction, and you're right, the market never caught Kramer out as a lefty Jew singing subtle protest as a colloquial Afrikaans character. For me, Kramer is particularly interesting in that regard since he never made a distinction between a whitey Afrikaans culture or coloured Afrikaans culture (as is made so much today – just look at the segregation at the KKNK). He was hugely popular on the Transvaal platteland!

    I also find the ambivalence charming. I'm just not sure why we have this sudden culture of anthems. It's as if the RKO tries to cash in on the trends in mainstream white Afrikaans music, as with the rugby song on the first album. Maybe the ambivalence is not intended.

  5. Alibaba,
    I am not sure the white audiences on the "Transvaal platteland" got the subtlety of Kramer's music (i.e. how coloured white music was). Of course, I am also making a distinction here between Kramer's better stuff and his cheap attempts to promote coon culture for record sales and theater gate receipts.

  6. Yes, but that is what I'm also saying – they didn't get it. I think his popularity under white Afrikaans people in the seventies was anyway more due to story-songs like Blokkies Joubert, Stanley se koei, Hier sit die manne in die Royal Hotel, Stoksielalleen op 'n Saterdagaand… those kinds of things.

    I'll never forget my first Oppikoppi (if my alcohol soaked memory serves me right, you were there also…) where David Kramer was a main line item, I walk from the front of the massive audiende backwards, to see the expressions. I came across an old emaciated boer in vellies and khaki, and he looked like he just saw the angel Gabriel. Transfixed.

    Of course the audience chanted Royal Hotel since he took the stage. That is one part of Kramer and I love it that he could do that.

  7. I agree, most white fans of Kramer didn't get it. That's why his most political album, Baboondogs, was a commercial flop (it contained the very political Skipskop, butchered into kitsch by Laurika, Sonja and the rest afterwards), and I think that disappointment was one of the main reasons for him to move into the more commercial venture of musicals, with Taliep Petersen (the musicals also started off rather political, with District 6, but became progressively lighter and more innocuous, with Goema being the most happy-clappy of them all). So this raises the question why his Karoo Kitaar Blues is so popular among white people – do they still not 'get it', or is that project fitting with dominant views of how 'coloured' music in the 'goeie ou platteland' should sound like?

  8. I am ambivalent about Karoo Kitaar Blues. Herman, I think I went to see it with you and our better halves at the Baxter? At one end it is about Kramer acting like Ry Cooder and inserting his, by then, kitch music on the audience, rather than let the Karoo musicians play themselves. On the other I've played that album–skipping over his songs–over and over at home since it reminds me so much of the music of the farmworkers of my mother's birthplace outside Oudtshoorn. I also know of one very well known South African novelist–coloured if you will–who has written some of the most trenchant insights on Afrikaans identities–who swear by Karoo Kitaar Blues.

  9. Yes we went to see it together. I loved it when it came out, but along the way it has lost some of its shine for me – perhaps because it's a bit stylized and framed out of context, as you suggest. But kudos to Kramer for introducing that music to a wider audience.

  10. I am appalled to see that Malan judged "controversial" on the basis of what he wrote about AIDS. Those articles were controversial, but they do not sum up his work. You might have called him a hero on the basis of his writings on Solomon Linda and "The lion sleeps tonight"; you might have mentioned the importance of "My traitor's heart" as one of the most intimate and honest portraits of South Africa. As far as I can see he is among the most important writers that South Africa has, and I find it sad to see him dismissed like that.

    Herman Wasserman claims that Malan dabbles into AIDS denialism – as far as I am aware (perhaps you can prove me wrong), he has befriended and written about AIDS denialists, but is not an AIDS denialist himself. It seems slanderous to insinuate that he is.

    Alibaba claims that he is an English South African. That is news to me. Could you explain?

    In case you wonder: I am not a friend of Malan and have never met him, just an avid reader.

  11. Well I have met him, and in a way, he talks Afrikaans with an English accent, does not have a boepens, and is very cosmopolitan & worldly.

    Perhaps that is what Alibaba means?

    I did however find him to be open, down to earth and warm, you know – that other Afrikaner stereo type – and one that you would not expect from a famous Anglo writer stereo type.

  12. I am with Herman on the "wannabe boer" slur:

    "… wannabe-Boers, I don’t care about that, I abhor pure this or that and Afrikaners would do well to realise they’re all creoles anyway."

    Skara B: any relation to Scara Tintwa?

  13. As far as Rian Malan is concerned – I have nothing against him personally, I am sure he's warm, down to earth, friendly, whatever. I think some of his journalism and writing was indeed important, like the Solomon Linda story, and I know a lot of white South Africans with whom My Traitor's Heart found resonance. But I don't think it's unfair to say that his comments around the prevalence of HIV/Aids in the country could be considered controversial – in fact that would probably be putting it mildly. He's not a denialist in the sense that Thabo Mbeki is/was one, but he questioned orthodoxy and denied authoritative facts and figures, and was taken to task for it. In my book that counts as controversial.

  14. Herman, thanks for your comment. There is no question that Malan's comments on Aids were controversial. But they do not sum up his work or his person, and that is why I think it is a shame that this is the only thing, apart from your mention of My traitors' heart, that gets any mention.

    I don't think what he wrote about Aids qualifies as Aids denialism in ANY sense, and I think it is important to distinguish between criticism of the way the media and the aids organisations handle the crisis, and denying that Hiv even exists. The latter is Aids denialism, the former isn't. That is why I used the term slander.

    I think that in a larger perspective, My traitor's heart is important not just for those white south africans with whom it found resonance, but also for the rest of the world to understand South Africa.

    Sean, no connection with any other Skaras or Scaras!

    And Sean and Kameraad Mhambi, thanks for the comments on being a boer or non-boer. Jeez how is a man to define himself…? I find the question interesting, as most of Malan's work is about finding one's identity as a South African.

  15. You pseudo-intellectual Afrikaner-bashers make me sick.

    Your pretences are only exceeded by your obnoxiousness.

    " As for wannabe-Boers, I don’t care about that, I abhor pure this or that and Afrikaners would do well to realise they’re all creoles anyway.
    But sure, it may be nice but it’s not the best thing since David Kramer. Now there’s a wannabe Boer that knew the Afrikaner psyche …"


    It sounds so really left-wing, liberal and enlightened.

    Excuse me, I just wanna puke quickly.


  16. WTF? you guys talking about aids etc…face it, RKO is a great band, not your run of the mill Afrikaner feel sorry for myself junk, not Kurt Darren or any stupid new afrikaner junk.. listen to the arrangements and subjects of the songs, this is fresh new South Africa coming of age!! Go Ian & co, we english guys love this!!

  17. you have no idea what you are talking about. this is one of the best afrikaans songs out there. as you can see I,m not afrikaans but this song makes me want to be. A lot of my friends agree with me. we all sing along. Yes its not De La Rey. as far as I can see it is not meant to be.
    They are not asking to be lead but to stand shoulder to shoulder next to each other. That is what this country needs to be there for each other. "STAAN BY MY""

  18. I dunno what you guys are on about. I am a born and bred "Boer", from the farm. Still dunno what this song is about, let alone the fact that I need to type in English…… But one thing is for sure…… I heard this song for the first time today, and I am crazy about it…. Good lyrics, and the Voices compliment each other 100%. Btw, I have never been a De La Rey Fan, but this song is good. So please stop winding if you do not like it, and rather listen to what you like.

    Each guy to his own preference.

  19. Alibaba is still smoking something, it seems… and RKO is great. Fun and serious, enjoyable and contemplative. A live gig with them is just infinitely better than what most SA bands can do in that jeandre.

  20. Gee, all this intellectual analysis
    Afrikaans is the youngest and fastest developing language worldwide and RKO are just anothr part of that growth and development.
    This is purely a blend of Folk and Blues and these are genres that actually have something to say.
    In my opinion Afrikaans Blues is way way ahead of our English Blues, I suppose we English haven’t lived enough of the Blues to play it as it should be played. The inclusion of some humour is brilliant and the words chosen very clever.
    As fro Staan My By, My Bra, that is just a brilliant salt-of-the-earth song committing friends to stand by each other. Anyone here analyse Al Jarreau’s “Lean on Me”?
    Just sit nack, relax and enjoy the uniqueness of the lyrics and the music :-)

      1. You’re welcome Roland.
        People like to make things complicated for themselves :-)
        I prefer to relax and enjoy the music and to listen to the lyrics so that I can learn from someone elses life experiences.
        There is good stuff around, . . . if people would only pack their prejudices away . . .

  21. I am a Rooinek,with a South African vrou and now living in London after a number of years in SA and a great supporter of the Afrikaaners and die Taal. Brink, Langehoven and Retief I am familiar with and still learning in my later years. Ja ek is an oupa.
    I have been six times to the KKNK at Oudtshoorn under my belt and miss the music. I find the music and lyrics of the recent RKO Grootse Treffers great, and it almost makes me, yes a Rooinek, feel homesick for the Karoo and the Boland! One can almost taste the very spirit of the words that they are singing.
    I think this group are really going places and I for one will be looking out to hear their music live when I visit Suid Afrika soon! Have a lekker jol met die music!
    PS – When are the RKO coming to London as there are so many Saffers here!

  22. Ek is mal oor staan my by my bra! kry egter nie die CD te koop by by Musica te Jeffreysbaai nie – wat n teleurstelling.

  23. Musica hou meestal nie die goeie musiek aan nie. Daar is tonne totale snert op die rakke (na my mening) en plaaslike ware kunsterenaars (nie CD produseerders nie) kry maak min promosie. :-( Probeer dit online koop, dit gaan dalk makliker.

  24. Herman Wasserman’s opinion/revue of Radio Kalahari Orkes is not worthy of attention because it is way too narrowly focused. It’s places RKO strictly within the confines of “Afrikaans Music” and evaluates it and them from that standpoint. It ignores the truth that they are a damn fine band putting out some awesome music, irrespective of genre. I too am no fan of some of Riaan Malan’s social and political weirdness but there is no questioning his talent. The RKO album “Opgestook” is a gem.

  25. I heard through the grapevine that the band is coming to Namibia and would relly love to go to one of their shows so how can and where can I get tickets and where is the show being held Thanks and best wishes Basil

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