Photography by Ference Isaacs
Concept, Direction & Design: Catherine Henegan
Afrikaaps traces the development of Afrikaans and Afrikaaps, with music ranging from Jazz, Hiphop, Traditional, Goema and Reggae underscored with documentary video and interviews. This production was hailed as ‘ground-breaking’ not only for foregrounding the little known creole history of Afrikaans, but also for its fresh new approach multimedia performance and documentary theatre.
Although it is a very subtle name change, Afrikaaps represents the liberation of Afrikaans from the negative stigma still associated with the language. Afrikaaps is part of a bigger movement of efforts in South Africa to reclaim the Afrikaans language for all who speak it. Excerpts of the documentary film by Dylan Valley are included in the theatre production providing an extra layer of narration by the late Dr Neville Alexander, a proponent of a multilingual South Africa and a former revolutionary who spent ten years on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.
The award-winning group Afrikaaps released their new EP with some of the hottest tracks off their album at Joule City (107 Longmarket Street, Cape Town) on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 December, 2012.
Afrikaaps headline a line up of top young South African talent under the musical direction of Jazz prodigy and SAMA nominee Kyle Shepherd. Collectively known as ‘Die Argitekbekke’ the ensemble features one of South Africa’s foremost Afrikaans rappers and poets, vernacular spectacular Jitsvinger, conscious songstress Blaq Pearl, b-boy rapper extraordinaire Bliksemstraal, Cape Flats crooner, dancer and multi-talent Monox (Moenier Adams), ‘plakkerskamp poet’ and story teller Jethro Louw and South African hiphop legend Emile YX?. Also featuring Cape Town musicians Claude Cozens (drums) and Benjamin Jephta (bass). Directed by Catherine Henegan – made possible by The Glasshouse.
“Instead of the stigma of ‘the language of the oppressor’, the speakers of Afrikaans, like those of every other South African language, can aspire to and attain for their mother tongue the halo of a language of liberation and of unification.” – Neville Alexander
Afrikaaps – The Film is more than a documentary about the history of Afrikaans in Cape Town. It’s a theatre piece within a film. But then, it’s more than that. It’s a journey of a few creative individuals whose task it is to reclaim a language; while at the same time discovering their heritage and putting together a theatre production that is as yet unprecedented in South Africa.
There is a side to the Afrikaans language, the creole birth of the language that has been overlooked in our collective South African consciousness. If Afrikaans is ever to be a language of liberation – it has to be disentangled from its perceived identification with white Afrikaner nationalism.
The Theatre Production
Afrikaaps, a Glasshouse theatre production, directed by Catherine Henegan, is a cutting-edge contemporary hip-hopera about the story of Afrikaans, tracing its origins back to 1600’s and its evolution into the 21st century. Featuring an all-star cast (dubbed Die Argitekbekke) including Jitsvinger, Kyle Shepherd, Blaq Pearl, Emile Jansen and Shane Cooper – this musical theatre piece employs glitches, scratches, beats and rhymes to traverse time, whilst also referencing the rich musical landscape of traditional Cape styles like Ghoema and Kaapse Klopse.
Die Argitekbekke set out on a mission of redefinition combining storytelling, poetry, music, video and dance to tell their story. Set in an ever transforming digital landscape, Afrikaaps is an international co-production between the Amsterdam based theatre collective The Glasshouse and The Baxter Theatre in association with ABSA KKNK 2010.
The film will use the theatre production as a thread running throughout, while profiling the main performers and how they came to participate in the project. It will also explore each performer’s personal narrative within the story of the Afrikaans language.
To get to know each of the characters, we will profile them in personal character vignettes similar in style to the Cuban documentary, Buena Vista Social Club. The interviews will be intimate and informal, and will take place during a walk with each character through their neighbourhood, or in their homes. The camera style will be flowing and smooth, and ideally operated with a steadicam rig to achieve fluid and steady movement, while at the same time allowing the viewer to feel as if they are immersed in the environment on screen.
Through these different character vignettes, we will also uncover the various areas in Cape Town where our performers are from, and in so doing, get a sense of how and where Afrikaans is spoken in Cape Town today.
The film will alternate between these vignettes and crucial interviews and conversations with experts on history and language such as Patrick Tariq Mellet (a passionate “heritage activist”) and Dr Neville Alexander (The Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa), amongst others. The film will also incorporate the play’s workshop process, as well as the “behind the scenes” material filmed during the creation of the theatre project. We will also film the performances at The Baxter and the KKNK with a minimum of two cameras; one roving camera, and one steady one in theatre, in order to cover all the angles needed to fully capture the performances visually and intimately.
In the film we will also delve into the history of Afrikaans, or rather the version that was never taught to us; from the first Dutch ships in the Cape, carrying slaves of varying descent, where it was birthed as a “mongrel language”; to the first book in Afrikaans which was the Q’uran, and the nationalism of the language in 1875 by the Genootskap van die Regte Afrikaners (The Organisation of True Afrikaners). We will also look at the famous Soweto uprising in 1976, where Afrikaans was labeled the language of apartheid, the great prime evil of our time.
I will also employ my own voice in the film, as a young “coloured” Capetonian whose parents are both Afrikaans speaking and yet I was raised as an English first language speaker. As a result my Afrikaans is very poor today. This is an occurrence which is not unique to my family, and I will interrogate notions of ownership, prosperity and shame in the use of spoken Afrikaans, especially the version of Afrikaans spoken by ‘coloured’ people in the Cape (referred to as Kaaps or Gamtaal), considered by Afrikaner nationalists as “impure”.
Reach and scope
With the film we aim to get this inclusive message to as wide an audience as possible, as it is highly important that the message of the play goes further than the people who will attend the theatre. We are aiming for local and possibly international TV broadcast, DVDs on sale at the theatre performances as well as distribution to libraries and schools. The educational (and transformational) potential of the material should also be utilized fully.
I see this film and this theatre project not as autonomous works, but as part of a bigger movement of efforts to reclaim the Afrikaans language for all who speak it, and in Neville Alexander’s words, to give tramakassie the same value and acknowledgement as dankie (“thank you”).
I believe that if we can all acknowledge the creole histories, and the black/ “coloured” contribution to the language, it would be a great step forward for equality in our country. We need to recognize Afrikaans as part of the heritage of all South Africans, and not only of one particular racial group. Together we can make Afrikaans a language of liberation!
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portret Orlin en Henegan Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam