Bittereinder - 2011-07-12
Background and formation
Bittereinder was formed early in 2009 when Jaco van der Merwe approached Peach van Pletzen and Louis Minnaar about his desire to start an Afrikaans rap project. Jaco had been writing and performing English hip hop and spoken word poetry since 1998, using the stage name Ajax, and had released two solo albums, in 2005 and 2009. He had begun the journey of uncovering the dormant power of rap in his mother tongue in 2007. Peach van Pletzen, also known as Yesterday’s Pupil, had been solidifying his reputation as one of South Africa’s most skilful and diverse songwriter/producers in collaborations with Tumi Molekane (arguably South Africa’s finest hip hop artist) and Francois van Coke (resulting in the “Oorlog Frankenstein” project), among many others.
In April 2008 Ajax & Yesterday’s Pupil toured Poland together, delivering crunchy sets of beat poetry and the first live performances of Yesterday’s Pupil’s debut album, Errors of Enthusiasm, to unsuspecting audiences in four Polish cities. (For those incredibly interested in detail, this was not Jaco and Peach’s first music collaboration. They first worked together in high school as vocalist and drummer for a consciously rap group called illastraight in 2000, and Jaco rapped and sang on a track on Peach’s first band, SHU’s, first recording at BMG in 2001. Even more remarkably, Louis played the cello for a few weeks in Jaco’s first band, silt, in 1998.)
This brings us to the third member of Bittereinder, Louis Minnaar, whose status as a premier visual artist has recently been enhanced and affirmed by a magical award-winning series of music videos for Van Coke Kartel, Yesterday’s Pupil, Die Heuwels Fantasties, Jacob Israel, A Skyline on Fire and now Bittereinder. Louis was originally brought into the group to be the visual maestro of the band (as almost any 21st-century musician knows that design, video and the aesthetic aspect of being in a band is fast competing in appeal with the music itself). As fate would have it, Peach became very busy with Yesterday’s Pupil work during 2009, and Louis stepped in to create some “rough beats” for Jaco to work with in the meantime.
Making ’n ware verhaal
Louis’s musical skills rose to the occasion very quickly and very impressively during the 20 months of writing and production on ’n ware verhaal, eventually seating him as chief composer on tracks like “wakkerword” (ft Inge Beckmann), “slechte mensen” (ft Tim Beumers) and “die slang & die arend” (ft Richard Brokensha of Isochronous). As the months passed, Peach and Louis began to function in an awe-inspiring symbiotic co-production rhythm, intertwining sounds and rhythms and textures in a magnificent tapestry which would eventually form the musical heart of ’n ware verhaal.
Peach’s mastery of the art produced tracks like the first single, “ware verhaal”, “Voleinder” (ft Sev Statik from New York) and “die ooreenkoms”, but it is fair to say that the remaining tracks on the album, namely “penworstel”, “almanak”, “die waarskuwing” and “solidariteit”, were created in basically equal collaborative efforts by the two producers. The last remaining track, “a tale of three cities” (ft Jack Parow and Tumi Molekane), used a beat created by Peach van Pletzen and Jean de Wet in a project called Verkleurhond. It would be impolite to exclude mention of Jaco’s additional co-piloting role in the composition and arrangement of virtually all the music on the album. He wrote melodies, harmonies and bass lines, and even fiddled with guitars, a hand drum and the insides of an old wooden clock in a valiant contribution to the aforementioned tapestry.
Jaco and Peach recorded most of their vocals at B-Sharp Studios, ably assisted by JP de Stefani, and the rest at Peach’s own workspace, Sleeproom Studios. Peach gleefully took responsibility for the final mix, and eventually Bittereinder produced a body of work that Rogan Kelsey described as “meaningful, diverse and accessible” when he mastered the songs at Lapdust Studios in September 2010.
The featured artists
Mention must also be made at this point of the powerful collection of collaborations that Bittereinder delivers on this album. Sev Statik, respected underground emcee from New York and member of Jaco’s all-time favourite rap group Deepspace5, graced “Voleinder” with a tight English verse (making one of Jaco’s lifetime dreams come true). Inge Beckmann, Larks’s leading lady, contributed a hauntingly pretty performance to a long-overdue collaboration on “Wakkerword”. Peach had been working with Tumi Molekane and Jack Parow during 2010, and approached them both to write and record verses for a conceptual track called “a tale of three cities”. The song is Jaco’s brainchild, a patriotic hip hop masterpiece featuring the three rappers speaking about their relationships with their home cities, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Kidofdoom rocker and Isochronous frontman Richard Brokensha added exquisite and majestic vocals to “die slang & die arend”. Carin Lange, Jaco’s three-year-old niece, benevolently delivered some super-cute and highly insightful vocal samples for the opening track of the album. And in what could prove to be the most exciting match-up of all, Rotterdam’s finest, Tim Beumers, lends a masterful verse to “slechte mensen” in the first ever Afrikaans-Dutch rap collaboration!
The first music video: “ware verhaal”
Louis created the band’s first music video for the first single, “ware verhaal”, with a budget of R1 500. In a half-day shoot, with no extra crew (not even a cameraman!), the three Bittereinder boys generated enough footage for Louis to animate and edit and sculpt into what would become the band’s first encounter with the public. The video reached 1 000 views on YouTube in less than five days – no mean feat for a band that had at that stage never played a gig, done an interview or said anything else to the world. The video itself is set within an endless wall through which the band’s faces and arms and a few other body parts randomly appearl, playing instruments, snapping fingers and singing the words of the song. There are also countless picture frames on the wall, including old family photographs, old maps, floating words, strange characters and various bits of fantastical eye candy from the depths of Louis’s boundless imagination, which all move around and interact with the flow of the song. The strength of the video lies in Louis’s editing, specifically the witty and fast-paced visual references to Jaco’s lyrics, as the video twists and bounces energetically through the three choruses and two verses of “ware verhaal”.
What Bittereinder’s music sounds like, and what it is about
Drawing on their combined influences and diverse frames of reference, Bittereinder produced an album with 12 tracks that truly don’t really sound like anything they’d heard before. It’s rap music, of course, but perhaps the emphasis when determining style here is on “music”, not on “rap”. A good deal of time was spent on the singing arrangements, and the “beats” themselves could much more accurately be described as layered musical compositions, with intricate levels of melody and harmony that create captivating dynamic soundscapes, a far cry from the stagnant and monotonous loops with which most rappers are satisfied. Jaco’s lyrical themes range from humorous and fearless social commentary to fables and narratives intended to induce in the listener the long-neglected art of thinking.