When Cape Town captured the heart of Stef Bos

Stef Bos tells us about his relationship with Mother City and the Afrikaans language

By expressing his observations about South Africa in the Afrikaans language during his Cape Connection tour Dutchman Stef Bos has intrigued both Dutch and Belgian audiences and has received wide spread media attention. Introduced to South Africa by Johannes Kerkorrel in the early 90's, a period in which the gateway to the Promised Land was constructed, Stef lost his heart to Cape Town. "I wish the Afrikaans language could be freed from its Apartheid past," he tells us.

Today Stef is the proud father of a half-South African son. He spends half of the year with his family in Cape Town and continues to write, sing and perform in the language he describes as "phenomenal Afrikaans". His album Kloofstraat was nominated for an Edison award in the Netherlands and he became the first foreigner to be awarded the South-African prize for his contribution to the Afrikaans language and music. It's high time for a chat with this Cape-loving Dutchman.

Stef on his music

I view my work as musical photography - I take mental pictures of experiences, landscapes, views, interesting encounters and basically anything that captures my fascination. My songs are born out of simple ideas about inner journeys and social explorations to observations about the world around me. Wherever I go my mental camera captures my imagination which I ventilate through lyrics. I do not get lost in self-indulgence though. I don’t consider myself a narcissist.

Stef on being the first foreigner to win the prize for contribution to the Afrikaans language and music

It was incredible to be awarded this prize as South-Africa has impacted my life in such a formative and profound way. I am married to a South-African woman, my son is half South African and we communicate in Afrikaans at home. I was humbled with this prize and I guess it confirms that the appreciation is one of a reciprocal kind.

What meant even more to me was the Dutch Edison nomination for my album Kloofstraat. Many Dutch people still struggle to disassociate the Afrikaans language from Apartheid so when the Dutch embraced my Afrikaans music it represented a significant and optimistic message. The language simply intrigues me, especially as a Dutchman who lives in Belgium and South-Africa, and it is simply fascinating to see the different forms in which my language reveals itself.

Stef on his connection/relation with South Africa

My relationship with and fascination for South Africa took off in the early 90s in Belgium when I met members of an anti-apartheid movement. At the same time Johan Kerkorrel and I became friends and wrote the song 'Awuwa' together. We flew to Johannesburg to record it after which I went straight home again. But I soon returned to South Africa as I wanted to witness this overwhelmingly exciting episode of history in the cradle of democracy.

I wrote predominantly about the past, the scars of violence, what had been and what would come and I attempted to express my personal ideas about how one can sincerely love a country without being nationalistic. As a foreigner I found myself on a symbolic crossroad - musically I collaborated with black musicians from different cultures and whilst our backgrounds and cultures were hardly comparable I felt we tapped from the same source of passion.  They taught me to ‘sing from the belly’ and it was our inability to sing with the same mother tongues that enabled us to discover that music is not necessarily about what you are saying but how you say it. I crossed different linguistic and cultural borders, particularly black cultures, and began to integrate Afrikaans into my music.

Stef on the complexities of South African reality

South Africa is a country with an entirely uniquely constructed reality.  As a visitor a terribly unequal picture reveals itself from the minute you enter the country until the land vanishes in the clouds on your flight back home. It seems as if a large group of South Africans grew up with and in this different reality in which the truths of this country passed them by.

Stef on his three favorite South African artists

In the Netherlands Nelson Mandela is the symbol of the anti-apartheids struggle. Understandably the 'black is good, white is bad' notion emerged yet the Dutch have barely been exposed to the stories of the white anti-apartheid activists.

My personal hero remains Johannes Kerkorrel who is the man who introduced me to South Africa and literally determined the course my life would take. In his time, he attracted over thousands of students with his anti-apartheid lyrics. Sadly he died in 2002.

Another of my South African heroes was Steve Biko because without being explosive he proved to reason in a rectilinear fashion. His writings have offered me intriguing and utterly constructive food for thought. 'I write what I like' is undoubtedly worth more than one read.

The poet Breyten Breytenbach also deserves his spot in my list of South African heroes. Out of protest he left the country during the 60s and he is blessed with a refreshing and sharp eye for reality. He approaches politics in a neutral and objective manner.

Stef on Cape Town

When you enter the Cape something comes over you, captures you and gets under your skin. That’s when you know you’ll come back.

On February 26th Stef Bos will perform at the Cluver Amphitheatre in Grabouw and will also perform at the literary festival in Stellenbosch in February.

Don't want to miss Stef Bos? Keep a close eye on our Events Section.

By Marion Hengeveld | Photographs by Yolanda Snyman

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