South Africa’s “coloured” population is one of the most diverse groups in the world: a multi-faceted, mixed-race section of society descended from slaves bought in by the Dutch from West Africa, Indonesia, Asia, as well as from the captured indigenous peoples Khoe and San (or Khoisan), whose language—Afrikaans—is a Creole mash up of many languages. Unlike in the West, the term “coloured” is not seen as an antiquated racial slur, but rather was cemented by the National Party government during the government-imposed segregation of Apartheid. It came to classify a group that was in-between: not white, not black, and treated, in the stratified world of Apartheid, accordingly. They continue to face discrimination and limited economic opportunity. Many coloured and black workers still work for less than $5 a day.
In that economy, white farmers remain rich and separate from the country’s black and coloured workers, and black politicians have become wealthy and out of touch with their constituents, giving large groups of people little recourse. In 1994, South Africa’s peace ambassador, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, coined the phrase “Rainbow Nation” to describe the multicultural future of love, racial harmony, and democracy which everyone expected to emerge after hundreds of years of slavery and nearly a century of fascist, race-based totalitarianism, but that reality has not exactly come to pass.
Among the enduring problems is the land issue: It was expected—and, some would argue, promised by the African National Congress—that whites would have to hand over the land after the end of white minority rule. Many believe that the redistribution of land is the key to South Africa’s future. Land grabs by settlers began in the 1600s as they moved into the country’s interior. First the Dutch and French took lands traversed by the nomadic Khoe and San, then the hybrid Afrikaners from the late 1700s onwards (and the English), took the land from the Xhosa and the Zulu, not to mention various other tribes and cultural groups. The Land Act of 1913 cemented the disfranchisement of the “non-whites” of South Africa by disallowing them the right to own 90% of the country's land. Although it was repealed in 1991, in practice little has changed.
DOOKOOM shot by Mads Norgaard.
Enter DOOKOOM, an incendiary, South African electro hip-hop outfit whose freshly released video for “Larney, Jou Poes” has the white-slanting civil rights organization AfriForum calling for its ban. The song, whose title roughly translates to, “Hey Boss, You Cunt, Fuck You,” is deliberately provocative, designed to play on the country’s longstanding racial tensions. In a riot of pitchforks, tractors, and burning tires, the video features “coloured” land labourers apparently getting ready to burn down their boss’s farm. Its depiction of black and coloured liberation is so terrifying to white people that AfriForum—whose stated mission is to protect the rights of minorities but who in practice act in the interests of white, South African Afrikaners who feel threatened by the fact that the nation is no longer white-minority dominated—has felt compelled to label the video as Hate Speech, and have summarily filed a complaint with the South African Human Rights commission. AfriForum’s main concern is the security of white farmers, isolated on their lands, who continue to face waves of violence and murder from the unemployed, the poverty-stricken, and the just plain criminal as the country’s economy becomes more and more unequal.
DOOKOOM is a reaction to the chaos of contemporary South Africa, as dictated by its history. You can hear it in the clanging beats, discordant synths, and aggressive raps. Isaac Mutant, one-fifth of DOOKOOM, was probably in his late teens when the oppressive regime of South Africa crumbled and Nelson Mandela walked free.
I say “probably” because Mutant doesn’t give much away. He’s run with some of most notorious gangs in apartheid’s dangerous, leftover projects of Mitchells Plain (on the outskirts of Cape Town). He’s released three albums that spawned underground hits passed around on tapes, then CDs, and then on torrent sites—none of which earned him a penny. He’s performed with the likes of the locally legendary crew Plein Madness, and he guested on Die Antwoord’s first album. A couple of years ago he performed with Public Enemy. According to British pop culture writer King Adz, after his guest spot, Mutant simply refused to hand back the mic, taking over Chuck D’s verses of “911 Is A Joke,” and leaving the Public Enemy leader to stand on the sidelines looking on in bemused admiration.
Rapping in a mixture of English, Afrikaans, and Sabela—a secret prison language that’s evolved among the coloured gangs—Isaac Mutant has paid his dues. He’s operated on the industry’s edge. Frustrated, tired, and about to give up, he had a critical turning point when he met British-born producer and beatmaker, Human Waste, a man who was in a similar position. Human Waste had been producing hip-hop in South Africa for some time, and while a lot of the crews he was working with were achieving success, he was tired of the old-school boom bap sound they continued to pursue.
Alongside L i L i † H, a disenchanted dream-pop chanteuse; Roach, Mutant’s hype man, bodyguard and DJ; and artist Spo0ky, who crafts their visual identity, they gave birth to DOOKOOM, dropping the project into a South Africa that is—20 years after the advent of democracy—fractured and riddled with a strange mix of fading hope, fear, mistrust, and intense energy.
DOOKOOM are determined to unsettle, and this is never more evident than during their live performances. The music is loud, grating, and angry. They wield knives and broken bottles and jugs of blood. They scream at their audiences and call for their deaths. A DOOKOOM show is a test of endurance until the crowd breaks through and embraces the anger—then suddenly there’s a joyful abundance of hate and love and fear and energy and screaming. Somehow, it all slots into place. Given that Cape Town’s live music scene is dominated by a bunch of fedora-wearing hipsters playing psych-rock and cutesy rap, DOOKOOM are a revelation. They’re nothing that South Africa has seen before, but just what is it that DOOKOOM are trying to achieve?
Some helpful terms:
“Tik” is a street drug that is basically crystal meth but not as well made.
A “naai” is literally “a fuck” but means “person I don’t like.”
A “Sangoma” is a practitioner of traditional and herbal medicines, who also consults the ancestors.
“Broe,” “Bru,” “Bruh,” “Bra,” are all different levels of ironically saying “My brother.”
“Kak” means “shit” but also means “very.” You can be kak angry or kak happy. K.A.K. is also an acronym for Koloured Ass Krooks, a term Mutant uses for a loose affiliation with a series of rappers and general troublemakers.
“Poes” means vagina, but it’s also the equivalent of “cunt,” but can also be used in the same way as “kak.”
“Zef” a word popularized by Die Antwoord meaning a style so bad that it’s good, a kind of meeting point between aspirational white trash and nouveau riche aspirations. For instance: Harmony Korine’s films are zef as fuck.
Photo by Roger Young.
What is DOOKOOM conceptually and what does the word mean?
Isaac: DOOKOOM is a fucking band.
Human Waste: It’s also like a cursed person. It comes from a sangoma [a Zulu term for a traditional healer], then it got changed in the Cape to being more like a bad, evil thing.
Isaac: DOOKOOM is basically a kaffir, it’s a myth: it’s not really what people think it is. I grew up in the ghetto, so this whole mystery surrounding a DOOKOOM—there’s always something negative attached to that word or that person [but] it’s not necessarily the truth. The mystery surrounding that kak is usually an outcast. I think everybody in DOOKOOM feels like [an outcast].
So let’s deal with the inevitable Die Antwoord comparisons. Who wants to go first?
L i L i † H: DOOKOOM’s not hip-hop. DOOKOOM’s not fucking rap. It’s got nothing to do with anything.
Human Waste: I guess the question is also, like, Isaac is authentic and Ninja is an art construct or whatever.
L i L i † H: DOOKOOM is just as art as Die Antwoord. We’re just saying different things.
Isaac: The only comparison between DOOKOOM and Die Antwoord is they breathe and we breathe, broe.
People in South Africa hate Ninja and are always writing about how Die Antwoord utilize cultural appropriation.
L i L i † H: DOOKOOM’s shoes are just dirtier than Die Antwoord.
Human Waste: Look at her go, she’s a quote machine!
So you have no beef with Ninja?
Isaac: No, I did a job for him and he paid me. I was never part of Die Antwoord… I featured on a track. He got me some fucking Jagermeister. Anybody that gave me Jagermeister, I got no beef with.
So I just want you to break down for those who are unfamiliar: “Larney Jou Poes.” What does “larney” mean?
Roach: The word “larney” is my boss, my overseer, the person I have to answer to every day. The last part is self-explanatory, “Jou Poes.”
Human Waste: “Fuck You!”
L i L i † H: But “jou poes” is not really “fuck you” so much as…
Human Waste: Well directly translated it’s…
L i L i † H: Your vagina.
Isaac: It’s like “you cunt” plus “fuck you.”
So let’s talk about the rainbow nation? How’s that working out?
Human Waste: Pretty good for white people.
Isaac: It’s not that peaceful. It’s not that rainbow.
L i L i † H: You can’t really have a rainbow with just black and white, can you?
But didn’t Nelson Mandela fix all this shit?
Roach: He’s dead; he’s a dead motherfucker.
Isaac: Nelson Mandela’s a rock star.
L i L i † H: He’s the Kurt Cobain of South Africa.
Human Waste: Quote Machine!
L i L i † H: Leave Nelson Mandela alone, man. He tried his level best, bruh.
Human Waste: You can’t deny the fact that like there’s a lot of angry black people who do not like Nelson Mandela at all, who actually see him as an Uncle Tom sell out. And you don’t hear that in the media ever.
L i L i † H: Dude, it not just angry black people, it’s angry white people as well. I went to fucking Benoni [Johannesburg suburb with a bit of a zef reputation] a month ago, and there’s people fucking living in tents on the main road. Poor white people living in tents, so people are being fucked. It doesn’t matter if they’re white or black, whatever. There’s no rainbow nation. Everything’s fucked and we’re tired of smiling and going, “Yes everything is fine, just come on holiday to our country and spend your money here.” You can’t say anything unless it’s pro-Africa, pro-South Africa. You can’t be dissatisfied with post-Apartheid.
Isaac: Otherwise it’s hate speech. You’re not allowed to be fucking angry. Or you’re not allowed to do a track like “Jou Poes My Larney.” So fuck the rainbow nation, my broe; it’s a fucking farce.
Photo by Mads Noorgard.
When AfriForum said they were going to file hate speech charges, they are speaking the same language as you, yet they see coloured Afrikaans as different to white Afrikaans.
Human Waste: Ja, well people will always hate each other. Like Londoners hate each other, like I hate Tottenham fans, even though they’re my direct neighbours.
Human Waste: Humanity is a family. If one part is taking the piss, like some white people especially are doing, like your uncle who you may have to slap up occasionally because he’s acting out of order, you still love him—it’s the same thing.
Isaac: White people just need to have sex with coloured people, man, that’s what I think.
What does coloured mean?
Isaac: Originally, you get coloured as in a person with a certain colour. But that is out the window because a white person can have a tan and have colour. So you can’t be a brown person because black people are also brown, so what the fuck? So there’s all these things, all these chapters and boxes concerning that fucking coloured thing. It’s a very interesting question. It’s a bit too deep.
L i L i † H: Can I tell you what coloureds are, they’re the future, bra. They are, everyone’s gonna be coloured in like three years time. Just have a one night lock-in at Assembly and everyone will be coloured by Wednesday.
Isaac: Let me answer this seriously. Coloured people are the leftovers of society, leftovers of everyone else. If you didn’t fit into some race… then the leftovers of all other races were classified as coloured. So now you would get half black, half white, half Indian, half Indonesian, half Chinese, half this, half that, those people were coloured supposedly.
What else are your songs about?
Human Waste: Addiction, sex, anger.
L i L i † H: Fear, blood.
Isaac: Fucking. Ma se poes [your mother’s vagina], tik, more tik. Alcohol and tik. Cocaine and tik.
L i L i † H: It’s not about cocaine. We’re an emo band.
Human Waste: We’re actually very emo.
At your Assembly (a popular Cape Town venue) gig you performed “Die Slow,” and Isaac was screaming “I want you to die” in the audience and they were yelling it back at you.
Human Waste: It’s a beautiful song. That’s a deep song. It’s energy.
L i L i † H: It’s a conversation.
Spooky: We encourage you to explore all these feels that society says is terribly wrong.
Human Waste: Anger is one of the most important ones. What are you gonna do with your anger? Are you going to go home and beat up your wife, or punch a wall, or shoot your girlfriend?
L i L i † H: No, rather just go to a club and just fuck out with us for 40 minutes. Just fucking cry and drink and dance and push people over and let us cover you in blood, and then fucking go home and just be like OK and better. It’s fucking therapy. At our last gig, in the middle of all that chaos, people screaming at each other, and there was this couple in the middle of all it, just making out. It was beautiful.
Spooky: But also anger is the most inspirational energy. Anger is there to make you change the condition.
L i L i † H: It’s being able to look a stranger in the eye and you’re both fuckin’ sweating and crying and that’s the most natural interaction.
When you were making the video of “Larney Jou Poes,” how was it getting the farm workers to say “Larney Jou Poes!”
Isaac: Ja bruh, they actually fucking had the opportunity to say “jou poes” to their fucking larney and their larney would pay them. That’s like Apartheid is still there bra. It’s like a new thing to them, for these people to say that to their fucking larney. Irrespective of what colour that motherfucker is. And then the possibilities just opened up. The next day they told me, “What the fuck bruh, you guys did something to us.” For the first time in their lives the new South Africa fucking dawned on them, my broe. It’s allowed. You can say that kak, bruh. It’s a small thing to us.
Human Waste: The farmer actually had to come in and say to them, “You can do this, it’s cool, you’re not gonna get fired, you have my blessing to say ‘Fuck me.’”
So AfriForum are going to take you to court.
Human Waste: It’s hilarious is all I can say. I mean hate speech when a black person talks about their anger towards a systematic abuse over generations? Farm workers are going on strike now trying to get like R65 a day, which is like $5 a day for backbreaking work under the African sun, and there’s nothing hateful about that. That’s okay, you can do that, that’s no problem. But if you say you’re angry about that fact, then you get taken to court because that’s hate speech. That’s ironic. It’s kind of funny.
L i L i † H: We’re just shining a torch on a pile of shit that’s been in the corner the whole fucking time.
Isaac: They can fucking afford the lawyers and kak of course. How do you think they got enough money for that?
Roger Young is a music and culture writer and filmmaker living in Cape Town. Follow him on Twitter.