David Kramer - Die Verhaal Van Blokkies Joubert

2009-05-25 16:25
Die Verhaal Van Blokkie Joubert
In Std 9 (Grade 11) I used to carry a tape deck with a small speaker/recorder around my school. I can't call it a ghettoblaster because it didn't approach that kind of cool. My friends and I would find and empty classroom and play music on it in our breaks.

Until the day my music teacher caught me playing David Kramer before theory class. She was a "cool teacher", who had once lent me her copy of the feminist Spare Rib magazine, but she was totally against David Kramer, who she claimed had made his name by "exploiting racism and sexism and stereotyping people." This didn't square with my image of him - someone whose portraits of people always seemed to contain immense tenderness, who made you laugh, and drove many to patriotic tears in his live shows. I told her how wrong she was, just not so very appropriately in Christian National Education terms, and was very nearly expelled for my pains. So David, if you're reading this, here's to you! And to you, Ms Spare Rib, wherever you are today...

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 facts

1. "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 interview

3. 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.

This classic ode to a rugby player who almost made it big is Kramer's best album, and bizarrely, the one you won't be able to buy on CD.

bigmart 2009/05/17 8:21 PM
I rather think Blokkies made that famous try in 1931 - and he's sitting on the stoep of the retirement home in Beaufort West. I used to listen to that song endlessly on my travels overseas. It evoked a mixture of horror (at the thought that that might be all) and a deep longing for the beauty of my country - even Beaufort West. David Kramer's best line, I think, was "Bloemfontein, Bloemfontein/it's the kakest place I've ever seen" a song he wrote at the height of the horrors of Nationalist rule, when Bloem council made a rule that girls and boys could not be closer than 12 inches at public swimming pools. And armed attendants with rulers to enforce it.
JR 2009/05/18 10:26 AM
When I first heard David Kramer, I guess I felt like "Ms Spare Rib" and believed that he screwed-up (kitchen style) the Afrikaans language. However, luckely I got converted, to realise that what he produced, was actually "Afrikana" in its purest form.
OB 2009/05/18 10:48 AM
What great memories this brings up! This was the first album that I owned and got as a gift (bought from Pick'nPay Music for R4,99!) in the early 80's. "Die Verhaal van Blokkies Joubert" had two great influences in my life: Firstly the love of rugby and secondly even more so, the love of music, South African music, about South African people. I can still remember thet the first song I knew of the top of my head was "Royal Hotel"! When we visited my eldest uncle, "Boetie Gawie", he would before greeting me first request, "Kom ons kyk of jy nog daai woorde ken?" and then I had to sing before he would greet me. This happended until I was beginning high school, because I could not get it over my heart to take the enjoyment away from him. Eventually "die manne in die Royal Hotel" started a singing career of almost 20 years now. Great memories!
Clive Goss 2009/05/18 1:29 PM
Dawid Kramer was the first "boere" Bob Dylan listen carefully when you get a copy of this LP. Hy het gat geskree met al wat "gat" was. LP ? yup I am that old ! !
Daantjie Badenhorst 2009/05/18 2:52 PM
Toe hierdie album verskyn het, het ek hom reeds leer ken met Bakgat. Hierdie album het hom egter 'n legende gemaak. Kan daar nie dalk 'n drukgroep gevorm word om te verseker dat hiedie album, Delicious Monster, Kwaai en Hanepootpad op CD uitgereik word nie?
JANNIE 2009/05/18 7:59 PM
Jean Barker,jy het hierdie album soo mooi beskryf!Ons moet amper ewe oud wees,maar wragtag,vandat ek David Kramer se musiek begin luister het,was ek 'n ryker mens.Sy beskrywings van mense en situasies is eenvoudig fantasties omdat dit so eenvoudig is."Kafeetjie op die hoekie het 'n rooi sinkdak/die mure is vol advertensies geplak/drink 'n coca-cola,rook springbok tabak/en buite in die son daar le/'n slapende brak "
Bra G 2009/05/27 2:51 AM
If we had a Hall of Fame- David Kramer would be installed without hesitation. His music has contributed in South Africans having a better understanding and respect for one another's culture. The tragic murder of his partner and "brother" Taliep Petersen came far too soon as they would have gone on to enrich our lives with their wonderful talent as storytellers and songwriters.Peace, Love and Respect. yours in Music, Bra G.
JRS 2011/08/10 10:29 AM
I think the song is about a retired, forgotten rugby player rather than a washed-up player. Anyway, nice article but I'll have to disagree that its his best album. That title belongs to Baboondogs from 1986.. Like Blokkies Joubert, a long forgotten but very powerful album.
Ian 2011/08/10 2:21 PM
@JRS, you are absolutely spot on! That is exactly what I said to David himself when I shook his hand after his set at Oppikoppi on Sunday. I cannot but get tears in my eyes listening to the likes of 'Dry Wine'- "Knowing it all from the distance of headlines, I express my opinion, with a mouthful of dry wine" or 'Going Away' - "No more pictures in the newspapers, no more news on the TV screen, words are whispered and the rumour spreads, of the friend of a friend and the things he's seen", or 'Driver Driver' - "why are they burning down the bridges we just crossed?", 'Skipskop' - "skipskop skipskop, wanneer hou die dinge op? Swaarkry lê net voor, die blou berge oor", 'Sitting on the Fence', 'Born for Dreaming' and 'Signal Hill'. Baboondogs was the album that really got me hooked on Kramer, and I played the album (still have my original vinyl) for my 15 year old son last week, and he too was blown away by the lyrics, and got the message of the album. I am a huge Dylan fan, and quite frankly Baboondogs compares with just about anything he has ever produced.
AL 2015/05/17 8:38 AM
I also think this song "Hak hom Blokkies' is about an old South African thoroughbred rugby player who has been forgotten by society, but he sometimes looks at his old rugby pictures and reminisces about the old days and old players. As we grow older, we all do the same and sometimes we get sad as we think about old friends and memories. But what a great song.
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