Talking Hip Hop Kop with Deon Maas

'Afrikaans hip hop artists really have a way with the words they use to describe their experiences'

"Everything that I’ve ever wished for I have now. If you told me at 16 what I'd be doing now I would’ve thought of myself as the luckiest guy in the universe."

At age 16, Deon Maas says he epitomised being 'totally uncool', with red hair, acne and skew teeth—he had a lot of obstacles to overcome. We’re sitting outside at Mumbo Jumbo, but as the bustle of Greenmarket Square heaves around us, I'm seated opposite this 'totally cool' guy wearing board shorts and he’s decked out with interesting tattoos, but the most remarkable thing about his appearance is his wide-eyed enthusiasm for life.

Deon is passionate about two things: being creative and driving his insatiable ambition.  He was a journalist in the 80s and had a strong interest in music, but it was after discovering hip hop in 1985 that he began to work for record companies.  Later in the 90s, he discovered a special brand of hip hop originating from the Cape Flats.

His achievements include; creative director for the South African Music Awards, marketing manager for Marvel Comics, the launch of a successful album entitled The Motherload Compilation in 1997 and current ownership of documentary film company Meerkat Media. One could say that he's devoured many slices of the pop culture pie.

"The key to getting the ‘coloured experience’ out there is to increase the popularity of Afrikaans rap"

Deon launched nationwide contest Hip Hop Kop which saw Afrikaans rappers compete for a R100 000 recording contract with Ghetto Ruff records. He hopes that the contest will provide a platform for young people to be heard and that the genre will become more accessible.

"I find that Afrikaans hip hop artists really have a way with the words they use to describe their experiences and frustrations in being coloured—too dark for the old South Africa, yet too light for the new South Africa. Lyrics reflect poverty, drug use and the drive-bys that are common in the townships and their message is an important one.

"Whilst hosting a radio program that focussed on Afrikaans music, I got a call from Brandon Johnas who introduced me to hip hop in Port Elizabeth and Parow. It was at this point that I realised how far reaching the genre was and that most artists don't have the business acumen or contacts to get outside of what they are doing.

"There’s not enough media coverage.  Artists fall somewhere between the English and Afrikaans press. In my opinion, most Afrikaans entertainment journalists don't have their ear on the ground. Another one of the problems facing the genre is that it is a very small pie, from a commercial point of view, and Afrikaans circles are protective and cliquey which tends to limit growth.

"Afrikaans music is the biggest selling genre and outsells Kwaito and gospel. It's a genre that's been around since the late 80s and, while artists have had marginal success, there has never been a movement. It needs to be heard because it will change people's minds about the ‘coloured experience’ and the genre of the music itself."

"I want to be able to share my knowledge with new talent"

It's clear that Deon isn't interested in commercial Afrikaans rappers like Kurt Darren, rather he’s fascinated by what goes on slightly left of the main stream. The easiest way to reach an audience these days is through internet and mobile sites, as even people from impoverished backgrounds have access to a cellphone. Hip Hop Kop, launched in Oudtshoorn on 22 November 2010, attracted 54 participants from places as diverse as Port Elizabeth, Jeffrey’s Bay, Alexandria, Barberton, George, Atlantis, Worcester, Mossel Bay and Walvis Bay and more than 7 000 votes were received.

"When I listened to the tracks my first response was: 'thank God I'm not a judge,' because most of them were of a very high standard," says Deon, "The idea behind Hip Hop Kop is to introduce the winning entrant to producers who are commercially oriented and will help their music to become more accessible. I can’t make anyone famous, but I can provide the media platform to enable them to do it for themselves."

The show, won by MC Cole, took place as part of the Suidoosterfees Festival at Artscape on Friday 28 January 2011 and featured Jack Parow and DJ Ready D performing alongside the six Hip Hop Kop finalists.

By Lisa Nevitt

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