Blokkies Jourbert is possibly the first real South African concept album. In a mix of English and Afrikaans, it tells the story of a rugby player who played the game before it had "all been ruined by politics", after Apartheid got South Africa exluded from international sport for decades. Now I've always disliked rugby fans' brutal shouting, and shunned rugby players (certainly at school!) but this album wasn't about rugby so much as it's about the passion and the dreams of the people behind it. In this case, lost dreams, the could-have-been moments we all know from time to time.
The story opens with "Blokkies Joubert", a portrait of an old man, a forgotten hero, sitting in the lounge of a small-town hotel, drinking his sunset away. "The moustache on his lip is pencil-thin / like the middle path through his hair / And although his friends call him Blokkies / His wife, she calls him Joubert".
That made me smile. His wife, she calls him Joubert. I picture her as a young girl flirting, and as his wife, still calling him Joubert. It's all in the beautiful details.
The song goes on to say "Man it's hard to believe this is Blokkies Joubert / A hooker in the Springbok scrum / Because he's old and he's grey and he sits in his chair / in the slanting winter sun." But you got to hear it. Click on the streaming audio clips below.
Next - the song that every wedding DJ has somewhere - the famous "Royal Hotel", introduces Die Manne, the old boys who hold his big day and his heroism in their hearts, who remind him that his young self is not completely forgotten, as the brandewyn flows in the tiny klein karooooo town, where conversations repeated daily honour of one moment of glory and keep it alive.
The record deals with many things, like the fear we all share of being old one day and thinking "what if?", and "Does anyone remember what I once meant?" but it offers comfort too, through Die Manne, who sit in the Royal Hotel, and still know Blokkies is a hero. Like all David Kramer's work it deals in architypes (not stereotypes). And like all good songwriters, Kramer writes about everymans hopes and dreams.
It's a short listen (in these days' terms, it's an E.P. with seven short songs to offer.) It's only available secondhand on vinyl and only the "Royal Hotel" (not the best track) as a DRM-free download on Rhythm Records. But even if it were all there, and even if you can find a CD, you'll be missing the joy of the fantastic LP cover, which is covered in a mix of lyrics and old newspaper reports about blokkies, including a shot of "him" kicking to convert the "wonderful try" - the one that made him famous - in 1931.
David Kramer made this album before he wrote many other songs I love. Like "Krisjan Swart" (Kyk hoe vlieg die duiwe surkels in die blou..."), and many Apartheid-critical classics ("Hoekom blaf die honde, by die hekke van paradys?") This was also made before he did District Six with Taliep Petersen and became a national hero. It's his best album. And it's can't be ruined by politics - because it's about things none of us ever escape. It's always going to be the same. A classic.
A few Blokkies facts1. "Hak Hom Blokkies" was a # 1 smash hit on the Springbok Radio Top 10 for 4 weeks from September 12 in 1981. It is Kramer's only # 1 hit to date.2. Thanks to the success of "Hak Hom Blokkies" many liberals at the time mistakenly thought that Kramer was a National Party supporter. David explains what the song is about: "Blokkies Joubert is indeed about a rugby hero, but someone like a Bennie Osler, maybe a liberal Danie Craven who reminisces and thinks about the time when people still resepcted them." Remember this lyric? "We played the gentleman's game/ But it's all been spoilt by politics! Never be the same again." Read full interview3. So while Blokkies is ostensibly about a washed-up rugby player, it's also so much more. "Blokkies was a portrait of my fear of falling into oblivion. And it was a portrait of the United Party" explains David. "My father's family, especially my grandmother were Smuts people." (Die Burger, 2008) 4. "Die Royal Hotel" peaked at # 7 on the Springbok Radio Top 10 in December 1981. 5. Eddie Wilkinson is the featured concertina player.
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