Connect to share and comment

Rappers make Afrikaans hip

White musicians update the image of South Africa's language of apartheid.

South African Afrikaner rapper Jack Parow, known as the "Afrikaans Eminem," pokes fun at the old stereotypes of the red neck "boere" Afrikaner. (Antonie Robertson)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Afrikaans, the guttural, gruff language that originated with the Dutch settlers who arrived in South Africa in 1652, has symbolized many things.

At first a patois spoken by white farmers, centuries later it became the voice of apartheid and inspired an uprising after being forced on black schoolchildren.

These days Afrikaans is one of the country’s 11 official languages, but some Afrikaners say it is being increasingly marginalized to the point where they fear for the survival of their language and culture.

The one thing it hasn’t been, until recently, is cool.

But a recent boom in offbeat Afrikaans rap and dance music, with artists sending up stereotypes of roughneck Boers, has seen the language embraced by hipsters, transcending boundaries at a time when the Afrikaans language and culture is struggling to redefine itself in post-apartheid South Africa.

Die Antwoord, the unlikely act that is leading the charge, raps in rapid-fire Afrikaans and heavily accented English and has found an international following since its “zef rap” — zef meaning “hick” or “common,” and playing on poor working-class stereotypes — became an online phenomenon a few months ago. Last month the group performed at the Coachella festival in California, and later this year it is set to release its debut CD on Interscope, the label of Lady Gaga, U2 and the Black Eyed Peas.

 Other acts such as Jack Parow, a rapper with a handlebar moustache described as the “Afrikaans Eminem,” and Gazelle, fronted by Xander Ferreira, who sings about an Afrikaner son ditching farm life for the disco lights, have drawn strong followings.

Afrikaans is spoken at home by 13.3 percent of South Africa’s population of 48 million. The language is spoke by white Afrikaners as well as the “colored” population, mixed-race people mainly living in the Western Cape area. This compares to 8.2 percent for English, 23.8 percent for isiZulu and 17.6 percent for isiXhosa.