Interview: Koos Kombuis! - Koos Kombuis interview

2007-01-24 13:43
Koos Kombuis

- Free MP3s: "Rock 'n Roll Road", "Fokkol" and a Koos & Valiant colab - Download them here

- Read Koos Kombuis's Autobiography (in Afrikaans)

The first time I saw Koos Kombuis live was in a show at the Grahamstown Festival called "Swart Kombuis", a collaboration with Valiant Swart. I had to leave early due to a curfew - we were still at school, and staying with my friend's grandmother. I also missed the famous Voelvry tour - a protest campus tour featuring many of the top Afrikaans acts in SA, because my mother didn't want me attending anything organised by someone called "Dagga Dirk Uys".

No longer a nomadic protest singer-songwriter, Koos Kombuis now lives with his wife Kannetjie in a suburban house in Somerset West. On the lawn outside, his kids play in the sun and the guinea fowls chase the cat around. It's a happy ending to a long story.

Jean Barker for You started writing poetry and song lyrics when you were kicking around Jo'burg, working for KFC... can you still eat KFC after working there?

KOOS KOMBUIS: [Laughs] Ja I do eat it! I don't even speak about that time any more. But I had a suicide attempt when I was working there. [picturing fat fryers]: How did you try and do it?

Pills. [Laughs] Voelvry was an almost mystical thing for me because I was just old enough to own the record but not allowed to go to concerts. But I was thinking: if someone were to write a musical about that, what would be the big climactic scene, the big theme?

[Whistles] It would probably be a Greek Tragedy [Laughs harshly]. What happened to the people involved in that whole thing later on - there was such a lot of tragedy, like Kerkorrel committing suicide and Bernoldus Niemand (James Phillips) dying in a car crash. The friends I had that were with me during and just before Voelvry, most of them are dead now. Mostly drugs and stuff like that. If you wrote the musical, it wouldn't end well. That whole scene was often characterised as a drug scene, but the politics was more important, right?

We weren't all that successful politically. Afrikaans young people didn't really get it. Some of them got what we were trying to say but there's a hell of a lot of misunderstanding. I mean I've got a hell of a lot of young fans who are very right wing still. I could use a word like "kaffir" in an ironic sense, and they wouldn't see the irony [laughs]. Voelvry was successful in terms of unleashing the creativity of Afrikaans people, because the whole rock thing grew up and exploded and is still blowing up. People saw it as an outlet. Also at that time Afrikaans rock music didn't have airplay and that's happening now. But politically we weren't completely successful. Also black people didn't really notice us. The music didn't really cross over. I think now that might be happening more though. I see Louis Mhlanga's working with Albert Frost

KOOS: Oppikoppi's been doing a lot to integrate music. They don't have any serious political agenda either; they're just doing it for the music. But they're doing such a lot of good work. They're organising festivals in black areas. They're doing a lot for African Jazz... they're at the forefront of what's happening now, in terms of fusion. I was at an English school, and Voelvry changed how I saw Afrikanerdom. I saw there was an alternative.

Ya that's true. There were English girls that were dumping their English boyfriends and trying to get an Afrikaans boyfriend. [laughs] Probably a mistake. I don't know. I never succeeded. So why the increasing use of English in your recordings?

KOOS: I don't really know. I think bilingually. My mother was an English teacher, and she forced me to speak English every second day. I'm doing the same with my kids though they mostly speak like Cartoon Network. They say things like "Cut it out, willya!" or "PUT ME DOWN!" How much influence can the record company you work with have on the kind of thing you produce? The quality of the album?

I remember Gallo wanted us to take out all the lead guitar solos if they got too long, and they wanted to format the thing, and they wanted to force me to wear a different shirt. I only had one of those shirts and it was in the wash all the time. It was a very ugly shirt. They wanted to create an image, and that just didn't work for me. They didn't break any laws, but the percentage I got was atrocious. A company like Gallo wouldn't actually cheat on the deal. But a small company with good intentions often just forget to pay you. People are very well meaning, but they smoke so much dagga... I didn't get one cent from Trippy Grape in all the years I've been working.

(Big companies work out percentages on the "average retail price" which is lower than the wholesale price of CDs, and factors in losses due to albums not selling. So an artist might get 6-8% of profits on CDs calculated at a sale price of R28, when their CD is actually sold wholesale for R60) OK... and just after Christmas, you disappeared and showed up in a hotel or something? Was it a publicity stunt?

Oh, no, it was more like a nervous breakdown. I was disappointed in certain family members I tried to reconcile with. And it was just a few days after Christmas. It's a terrible time of year. [laughs] It never snows. You get all these Christmas cards with snow on and it never snows. So tell me about the novel.

I'm finished. It's accepted. There will be rewrites. Can't say too much about the novel because I don't really understand it. It's not autobiographical, but it's an exploration of Afrikaans fears and spiritual disfunctionality. In a humorous way. And it's called "Raka - Die Roman". You've probably heard of "Raka" by NP Van Wyk Louw. [I haven't. He explains it's a an armogeddon story of sorts.] So what's next?

I've been thinking about that for two days. I'm suffering from post-natal depression. Not as bad as when I ran away but this whole week I've... I've redone my study and been moving furniture. I don't know what to do with myself. Maybe put on a CD by Jan Blohm or something? I really feel like writing something else. A lot of people are taking up knitting, apparently...


MWEB: Or maybe not.

Ja, maybe not.

Hear clips from Equilibrium, Koos's latest CD, and read the review (We loved it).

Koos Kombuis is a living legend of the South African music scene - he toured with Voelvry and was a major figure in the "Alternatiewe Afrikaner" movement for change, rebellion, and good times. His Niemandsland is widely considered one of the best SA albums ever recorded, and recent collaborations with Valiant Swart ('n Jaar in die Son) and Koos's latest solo release, Equilibrium show that he hasn't lost the plot, even if he's settled down a lot (read this publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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