Reshaping Remembrance ~ Die Stem

Music is high or low. It can ascend or descend (like mountains and valleys) with an ascending run or descending scale. It is here, close to home (tonic), or there, close to relatives (relative or parallel minor/major, perhaps dominant or subdominant keys). Sometimes it moves, as is envisioned in Schoenberg’s idea of tonality, to far-off reaches of larger tonal geographies, to the furthest of such places before it returns (if it returns at all) to the known world of the tonic. Music as a kind of res extensa.[ii] Orchestration could be airy and spacious in the hands of Webern, or constructivist and muscular when done by Brahms. Music creates horizontal contours and arches through the distances between notes (intervals). These distances are determined during performance by controlling the time-space separating the end of one tone and the beginning of the next (articulation). Music is architecturally monumental in form, like a Beethoven symphony, or it is in expression and form as intimate as the salon.

We cannot approach music in language without the metaphors of place and space. Individual combinations of tones (musical ‘works’) constitute designated spaces. When these spaces become known after frequent visits, they become inhabited by cultural memory. The evocative nature of such spaces is inherent to the fact that the sentiment (emotional and/or cultural) is felt precisely, but cannot be expressed accurately in language. It is a language-resistant space. To consider Die Stem as collective memory depends on this metaphorical understanding of music in general, and of a specific work in particular. This is not a perspective that demands clarification of the song’s history. C.J. Langenhoven’s poem is only the foundation of this place. M.L. de Villiers’s melody is only the outer walls thereof and Hubert du Plessis’s official orchestration only the interior decorating.[iii]

Questions on memory and remembering and of how these things relate to this particular text, are not questions about historiography. The imagination in search of memory has to find more poetic avenues to knowledge.

Figure 19.1 David Goldblatt’s photograph with the description ‘Die Heldeakker, The Heroes’ Acre: cemetery for White members of the security forces killed in “The Total Onslaught”, Ventersdorp, Transvaal, 1 November 1986’. [iv]

The closing phrase of Die Stem is literally displayed ‘triumphantly’ (the character indication in the music) as meaning-giving banner over this demarcated space. It lends definition to the space of the military cemetery. Does the reader hear it? The two security force members buried there are lifted up by the contour of the melody: B flat-A flat-G-B flat-C-D-E flat. The dotted rhythmical introduction to the phrase, undergirded by the secondary dominant harmony, assuages doubt, presses forward, aims towards the solution at the end of the phrase. The end is comforting as an end. It brings us home. Goldblatt’s photograph dates from 1986. It is understandable if one hears Die Stem in this time as a military song; the contours and rhythms and harmonies sound like bulwarks against the enemy, as encouragements to those who would doubt the final victory. However, for André P. Brink, Die Stem is also the song of torture in the seventies:
every time the rebel leader is arrested, and tortured, and killed, leading to new protest, and to new martyrs; this goes on until a deadly silence remains, lasting an agonising eternity, a silence out of which, almost inaudible at first, the national anthem rises while a group of folk dancers in white masks begin to dance on the bodies of the martyrs.[v]

It is also this ‘Stem’ that, at the end of J.M. Coetzee’s Age of iron, provides the sound track to the author’s nightmarish vision of hell. ‘I am afraid’, says the dying Mrs Curran, ‘of going to hell and having to listen to Die stem (sic) for all eternity’.[vi] Die Stem that accompanies the coffin of Milla Redelinghuys into her grave at the end of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat has a different tenor. When the Grootmoedersdrift farm is taken into possession by the coloured woman, Agaat, who was formed by the white woman who loved and rejected her, it is Die Stem that articulates ambiguously change and continuity:
Gaat making people by the graveside sing the third verse of Die Stem: … When the wedding bells are chiming, Or when those we love depart. And then all eyes on me for: … Thou dost know us for thy children …We are thine, and we shall stand, Be it life or death to answer Thy call, beloved land! Wake up and smell the red-bait, as Pa would have said. Poor Pa with his ill-judged exclamations. Did at least make a note for my article on nationalism and music. Thys’s body language! The shoulders thrust back militaristically, the eyes cast up grimly, old Beatrice peering at the horizon. The labourers, men and women, sang it like a hymn, eyes rolled back in the head.

Word-perfect beginning to end. Trust Agaat. She would have no truck with the new anthem.[vii]

But how did historical reception develop the fascistic timbre that characterized performances and receptions of Die Stem in the 1980s, so apparent in the quotation above? Surely there was a time when Die Stem was a freedom song for Afrikaners, an alternative text for collective musical mobilization to God Save The Queen. This essay wants to connect the cited examples of fiction-mediated memories of Die Stem to the historical process represented in FAK (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, directly translated as Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies) archival documents from the 1950s.
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Reshaping Remembrance ~ ‘In Ferocious Anger I Bit The Hand That Controls’ – The Rise Of Afrikaans Punk Rock Music

On a night in 2006, a Cape Town’s night club, its floor littered with cigarette butts,  plays host to an Afrikaner (sub)cultural gathering. Guys with seventies’ glam rock hairstyles, wearing old school uniform-like blazers decorated with a collection of pins and buttons and teamed up with tight jeans, sneakers and loose shoelaces keep one eagerly awaiting eye on the set stage and another on the short skirted girls. Before taking to the stage, the band, Fokofpolisiekar, entices the audience with the projection of their latest music video for the acoustic version of their debut hit single released two years before and entitled ‘Hemel op die platteland’.
In tune with the melancholy sound of an acoustic guitar, the music video kicks off with the winding of an old film reel revealing nostalgic stock footage of a long gone era. Well-known images make the audience feel a sense of estrangement by means of ironic disillusionment: the sun is setting in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville. Seemingly bored, the five members of Fokofpolisiekar hang around the Afrikaans Language Monument. Against the backdrop of a blue-grey sky, the well-known image of a Dutch Reformed church tower flashes in blinding sunlight. Smiling white children play next to swimming pools in the backyards of well-to-do suburbs and on white beaches while the voice of the lead singer asks:
can you tighten my bolts for me? / can you find my marbles for me? / can you stick your idea of normal up your ass? / can you spell apathy? can someone maybe phone a god / and tell him we don’t need him anymore / can you spell apathy? (kan jy my skroewe vir my vasdraai? / kan jy my albasters vir my vind? / kan jy jou idee van normaal by jou gat opdruk? / kan jy apatie spel? kan iemand dalk ’n god bel / en vir hom sê ons het hom nie meer nodig nie / kan jy apatie spel?)

And whilst the home video footage of a family eating supper in a green acred backyard is sharply contrasted with images of broken garden chairs in an otherwise empty run-down backyard, the theme of the song resonates ironically in the chorus: ‘it’s heaven on the platteland’ (‘dis hemel op die platteland’). On the dirty floor of the night club, a young white Afrikaans guy kills his Malboro cigarette and takes a sip of his lukewarm Black Label beer, watching more video images of morally grounded suburb, school and church and relates to the angry words of the vocalist:
‘regulate me […] place me in a box and mark it safe / then send me to where all the boxes/idiots go / send me to heaven I think it’s on the platteland’  (‘reguleer my, roetineer my / plaas my in ’n boks en merk dit veilig / stuur my dan waarheen al die dose gaan / stuur my hemel toe ek dink dis in die platteland / dis hemel op die platteland’).

As the video draws to a close, the young man sees the ironic use of the partly exposed motto engraved on the path to the Language Monument: ‘This is us’.  He has never visited the Language Monument, but he agrees with what he just saw and because he feels as though he just paged through old photo albums (only to come to the disillusioned conclusion that everything has been all too burlesque) he puts his hands in the air when the band takes to the stage with the lead singer commanding:
‘Lift your hands to the burlesque […] We want the attention / of the brainless crowd / We want the famine the urgent lack of energy / We are in search of the search for something / We are empty, because we want to be’ (‘Rys jou hande vir die klug […] Ons soek die aandag / van die breinlose gehoor / Ons soek die hongersnood die dringende gebrek aan energie / Ons is op soek na die soeke na iets / Ons is leeg, want ons wil wees’. Read more

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Sjoerd Hofstra ~ Sierra Leone In The Years 1934-1936.

This category contains photographs made by researcher Sjoerd Hofstra (1898-1983). Most of the photographs were made in Sierra Leone in the years 1934-1936. His daughter, Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra, has kindly agreed in making his photographs available with a CC-BY-SA license. Uploading and categorizing was done by staff members of the African Studies Centre Leiden (the Netherlands).

Four boys looking/listening. Sierra Leone, 1935. Collection Hofstra. Panguma (surroundings). Photograph: Sjoerd Hofstra

Seated company and military chapel standing behind, Kailahun May 1934. Front row from left to right: Sjoerd Hofstra, three chiefs, the assistant District Commissioner, the band master, the D.C. of Kailahun, an old English trader, two chiefs and a civil servant.

Panguma. Sierra Leone, 1935. Panguma (surroundings). Collection Hofstra. Photograph: Sjoerd Hofstra













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