The Radio Kalahari Orkes

The curious appeal of a band of celebrity Afrikaner musicians engaging with a quite easily defined past and present.

Still from "Staan my by" by Radio Kalahari Orkes.

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.  They’re in the news because of the video for the song “Staan My By.”

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.


Further Reading

Dookoom Rises Up

A Cape Town hip hop group causes a huge stir with its music video “Larney Jou Poes” (roughly translated: Boss, your cunt.) depicting an uprising by farmworkers.


The first group of people who called themselves Afrikaners were Orlams people, who would be called coloured in South Africa today.