Kyle Shepherd on piano and Shane Cooper on bass in Afrikaaps pic Aryan Kaganof

Kyle Shepherd on piano and Shane Cooper on bass in Afrikaaps pic Aryan Kaganof

Review:   Afrikaaps

Director:  Catherine Henegan

Cast:  Jitsvinger, Blaq Pearl, Monox, Bliksemstraal, and Emile Jansen, with contributions by Jethro Louw. 

Music:  Kyle Shepherd and Shane Cooper

Review:  Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent, 18 April 2010

The Baxter Theatre’s latest show is set to raise the hackles of some Afrikaans purists.  It is generally accepted that Afrikaans originated through the interaction between the Dutch settlers, the indigenous people and slaves.  At the end of the South African War in 1902, the British crushed the Boer republics, which played a big role in the creation of Afrikaner nationalism.  In 1948 the ruling National Party took ownership of Afrikaans, in part, with their Apartheid policy, and Afrikaans became synonymous with oppression. 

In the Cape, Dutch was the dominant language for some 150 years, and the other language groups had to learn some form of Dutch in order to communicate, which eventually lead to the creation of Cape Afrikaans.  Some Dutch classicists were not pleased with the use of this Cape Dutch vernacular.  This is by no means the entire story of Afrikaans and the show, Afrikaaps, doesn’t attempt to tell the whole story either but it feels like an endeavour to emancipate the language from her oppression and those who singularly stake claim to her. Today there are roughly 15 million Afrikaans speakers in South Africa, but how many of these people really speak the pure ‘higher’ Afrikaans that is taught at most schools?


Afrikaaps explores the roots and the evolution of the language through a combination of vibrant music, imaginative storytelling, poetry and digital projections.  The show comes across as part live music spectacular, poetry slam session and quirky educational, as the 8 performers tell the story of Afrikaans from its roots to where it is today.  There is also a fair bit of pondering on the future of this language which, despite the greatest efforts of artists to educate on the true diversity of the language, is still wrongly perceived as purely the language of the oppressor. The performance sees the plight of the coloured and Muslim community claiming Afrikaaps as their dialect.  They aim to showcase Afrikaaps as a language on its own rather than the form of slang that has been stereotyped by gangsters.

The frontline performers are Jitsvinger, Blaq Pearl, Moenier Adams, Bliksemstraal and Emile Jansen, with contributions by Jethro Louw who is a township poet, sculptor and Khoisan activist.  Kyle Shepherd and Shane Cooper supply the hauntingly beautiful and evocative accompanying music with piano and double bass.

Moenier Adams, Monox, from Mitchell’s Plain delivers a performance that makes him a young talent to watch out for in future productions.  He has an enigmatic stage persona, and a clear and honest voice which gently slips into your heart.  Adams is also a fireball when it comes to break dancing and he even has a streak of the stand-up comedian in him.  Adams jokes that Afrikaans is a ‘kriewel’ (crawling, or crawling with) language.  He explains that it does not only have a mom and dad, but many parents, and a multitude of grannies and grandpas.  “It’s not a two-faced language. It has many faces,” says Adams.

Quintin Goliath, also known as Jitsvinger, provides comic relief with his lofty figure dressed in a fancy suit made out of newspaper articles, though his moving poems silences the packed auditorium in an instant.  Goliath has performed across Europe and Asia and also with Antjie Krog at the Spier Poetry Exchange.

There’s a lot of informal, and what feels like impromptu, chit-chat between the performers on stage and in between acts.  They rag each others’ accents and thus provide funny and endearing anecdotes and insights into their lives.  At one point the performers jokingly ponders the origin of the click sound;  as in the click sound made when calling a horse, or the sound that a mother will use to show her disapproval at a naughty child. The performers decided among themselves that it is time to take the click back and then laugh as they wonder if the Khoi and San might want royalties for every click sound used.

Bliksemstraal/Lightning Bolt, has incredible break dancing moves.  Bliksemstraal is also a singer, songwriter and poet and he is about to unleash his album Recession. He has performed all across including the world and even at the French World Cup in 2008.  Blaq Pearl and Emile Jansen who are both dedicated activists in their fields make up the rest of the frontline acts.
The very honest and moving performances take place against a multimedia backdrop created by Dylan Valley.   The images shown include African styled pop art and a documentary on Afrikaans with leading figures that speak on the subject.  Yet it is in an interview with school children, shown as part of the documentary, that the Afrikaaps message is most clearly illustrated.  The interviewer asks a primary school learner if Afrikaans is her mother language.  She laughs as she replies that the Afrikaans that she is taught at school is definitely not the language she uses when she communicates with her mother, and yet people insists on calling it her mother tongue.  A young boy is asked what would happen if Afrikaaps is introduced as part of the school syllabus.   He replies without hesitation, “Many more children would pass the subject.”

Whether Afrikaaps is sending purists running for their dictionaries or whether we decide to accept it as part of our evolving future, it would seem that it is gaining a strong following and that it is going to be around for a while.

The End


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