Karen Zoid embodies an odd mixture of slickness and awkward sincerity that is uniquely South African. This kind of personality can make people squeamish. Either the artist is going too close to the bone, or they've managed to wedge some aural tinfoil in your teeth.
Often, it's hard to tell which of the two you have on your hands.
Mainly, Zoid's slick as hell. Her voice, at once warm and clear, cuts through the tightly wound tic tic bang and gently chugging guitars of the straight rock backing band, who support her all the way and never get in her way - the advantage of having a clearly marked frontman with a personality that makes her position non-negotiable.
She's trendy too. At some point since '94, South Africans, including Afrikaners, wanted to hear more than just their own Taal in the songs they sang along to. Take Kwaito - a music form that began around '94: the name comes from "Kwaai" (Afrikaans for angry or cool) and the lyrics mix Zulu or Xhosa with Tsotsi Taal, English, and more.
Afrikaans pop is no different. Karen Zoid is one of the best at talking the taal. Her classic rap / rock / pop hybrid track off Poles Apart, "Afrikaners is Plesierig", pokes affectionate fun at the contrasts within her culture.
Love Karen or hate her, she's regte, egte South African, and if you're cringing, it might be something in your own background that's bothering you. That doesn't make her perfect. So don't worship at her alter - as South African critics and audiences so often do with anyone competent enough to cut it overseas (yes, you can buy Zoid's albums on Amazon.com) or kind enough to credit them in their album sleeve notes.
There are problems with Media. "Ek Lewe" is worse than Amy Grant with a trattoria backing band! Some of the songs could have been shortened or cut - the album feels pretty long at 52 minutes. There isn't a song on Media that blends pop, satire and sass quite as well as "Afrikaners is plesierig" or a love song as beautiful as "Engel". And there's a sense of sameness about the songs that could also be more flatteringly termed consistency.
But there are also plenty of great numbers in the chick-rock genre. Songs that also bring the softness of soul, folk, and country influences. Why buy Sheryl Crowe when Karen Zoid's out there whipping her ass at every turn?
Karen Zoid's voice is much more flexible and completely whine free. She's tuneful without being too twee on "Homo sapien". She's personal without sticking her head too far up where the sun don't shine on "Small room" and "Pleased to meet me". And her lyrics really mean something.
She can also be conversational without being obscure - in "Scumbag is 'n loser" she defends her right to be friends with a friends' ex lover. Who hasn't been there? In the very funny "The guy from the beer commercial" Zoid of the Levis (TM) endorsements sympathetically satirises serious actors (and other artists) who struggle to live down the day they sold out.
Yep, Karen Zoid's still got that wicked streak - that biting turn of phrase. Yet somehow she avoids being labelled a bitch and tossed aside. She makes people understand her, you see? The simple, friendly middle of road tunes and the more folksy girl talk tone of this new album might make existing fans think she's gone too soft. But do not fear. Her dark side is still there. The Devil's still in her - he's just behaving somewhat coyly.- Jean Barker
* Insig editor Elmari Rautenbach quoted in the Mail & Guardian Media Online
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