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Fred de Vries

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

Interview with Koos Kombuis

Koos Kombuis, Wimbledon Walkabout


Last year Koos Kombuis recorded an album of furious protest songs called Bloedrivier. It contained fist-in-the-air rock anthems such as Die Fokol Song and Reconciliation Day about the murder of his friend Taliep Pietersen.

The album was conceived during those gloomy pre-Polokwane days. As Kombuis recalls: “The songs were written when Mbeki started propping up Mugabe and going for third term of leadership of ANC. I was starting to think: oooh, this is looking very dark. I began to feel quite racist. Every time I saw blacks on the street I thought: why can’t you vote for someone else, dammit.”

He touched a raw nerve; Bloedrivier with its loud guitars and thundering choruses became the best selling album of his career, which spans more than twenty years. “I got pretty big cheques and we paid off our house loan, almost all of it,” he says, grinning at the paradox of turning rebellion into money.

This house, where he lives with his wife, two kids and dog Griet, stands on the outskirts of Sommerset West. Or as he explains in an email with directions: “The very last street of the very last suburb where the very last Voëlvry survivor lives…” He goes on to describe the house as “a mock Tuscan double-storey, and you might get barked at by a very stupid but perfectly pedigreed Boxer dog who sometimes responds to the name of Griet.” The mail ends with: “Welcome to my world!”

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Top 11 for 2008

Is it still really worth it to make end of year lists of favorite albums? Given the confusing state of the music industry one would be tempted to say no. The industry is in a mess. The CD-format is rapidly becoming obsolete, while downloads and sharity blogs flourish. Moreover, despite an overdose of good music, there wasn’t a single album that really stood out; 2008 didn’t bring us a new Closer or Entertainment! or Village Green or Damaged. Despite what the music critics try to make us believe (forget about the retro stuff of Fleet Foxes and the whine of Bon Iver) there were no classics.

Therefore this year a Top 11 that doesn’t just include albums, but also single tracks, ex aequo’s, books and blogs. And some are certainly not form 2008, but are somehow linked to the year, with ample space for women and psychedelica.

Here it is – in no particular order – my top 11 for 2008 – for what it’s worth…

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Supremely cosmopolitan, Nuruddin Farah

The story of Nuruddin Farah, one of Africa’s most celebrated authors, begins, inevitably, with a story. Nuruddin was ten years old and lived in the Somali town of Kallafo, in the Ogaden, which was had come under Ethiopian rule. Since the Ethiopians weren’t interested in educating those backward Somalis, illiteracy was high.

But Nuruddin’s father, a merchant, was a stubborn fellow. He invited teachers from other parts of Somalia to set up schools in Kallafo. Hence, for a while young Nuruddin visited an American mission school in the morning and an Arabic school in the afternoon.

Because Nuruddin spoke Somali, English and Arabic he was often asked for wordy assistance. “At the age of ten, eleven I started a business in writing, where I would charge people to write letters for them,” says Farah in his Cape Town apartment.

“One day a man came and told me his wife had run away, and he was threatening her that if she did not come back in three months he would go to the town where she was, beat her up and then drag her all the way to Kallafo.” Cheeky Nuruddin changed that threat into: “If you don’t come back in three months you may see yourself divorced.”

The woman received the letter and showed it to her brothers. They took it to the local judge, who declared them divorced.

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