A new life on her terms
‘When I die I will leave behind my son and my music. When I was 16 I discovered Pink Floyd, which is so after the fact. I hope that one day a 16-year-old will discover my music in their parents’ music collection and it will mean something to them. I think everyone wants that from their life.”
This statement by Karen Zoid will happen to Karen Zoid because she is that good. And that life-changing and that meaningful.
If one takes a look at her brand new album, * terms and conditions, on the surface it is a straight-up adult contemporary country rock album. But listen again, and then again and the layers start becoming apparent.
She is the queen of irony. This is made even more apparent in conversation because Zoid is a highly intelligent and uncompromising human being.
“A lot of the album has to do with dealing with my divorce. I’ve got new boundaries and I am finding and establishing myself again.”
And re-established herself she has. After the much publicised divorce, Zoid is back with an album that will raise her status as an artist even higher.
She burst on to the scene about 10 years ago and has created a unique space for herself. Before her there was no Afrikaans female singer who played rock ’n’ roll guitar like a boy. There was no Afrikaans female artist who was that aggressive on stage. There was no Afrikaans female artist who never gave a flying damn through a rolling donut what the establishment thought of her. Finally, there was no Afrikaans female artist who was and who is cooler than Karen Zoid.
She earned respect among men because she knows music and how to deliver it well. Male musicians such as Arno Carstens, Theo Crous, Valiant Swart and Albert Frost give her big respect as a musician. In fact, Frost features on her self-produced album. As do Mauritz Lotz and drummer Kevin Gibson.
Zoid is also planning a show with Louis Mahlangu at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK).
“Louis and I always played the same venues at festivals and often we would end up jamming together late into the night. I admire a guy who comes from Zimbabwe and makes a successful living here. Getting to know him and his music has affected my life and my songwriting. Maskandi is actually country music and beautiful storytelling.”
The show, called Malaika/My Engel, will attempt to translate popular black songs into Afrikaans as Zoid is determined to share those songs with her people. Malaika, which means angel, will also feature Nick Turner of Sons of Trout fame.
“Nick plays a detuned guitar while Louis skates over his guitar strings.”
Zoid is also planning an improv show with Shaleen Surtie-Richards at the KKNK. They first met on the set of the film Susanna van Biljon in which Zoid had the lead role. Produced by Franz Marx, it premiered at local cinemas in September and did very well.
“I was so nervous on the first day of set. I was thinking that I can’t f*** this up. There were 80 people around and cameras and I was so nervous.
“Shaleen came up to me and said: ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna look after you.’ This coming from an acting legend!”
Yet when we speak about Zoid as an iconic South African woman she does not seem to realise the huge role she has played in South African music history.
To her, she is just doing what comes naturally.
“I express myself through my music. I don’t get paid for singing. I get paid for leaving my house. I am a very disorganised person in every aspect except my art. It’s the best job in the world. In Dubai they thought I was famous like Steve Hofmeyr. I play there every year. They built me this big stage in the desert. I played with people like John Mayer.”
Our interview takes place at the quaint Cupcakes on the even quainter Dorp Street made famous by Valiant Swart’s epic album of the same title. Over lunch I discover a woman who has rediscovered her vitality. Like most artists, Zoid can be quite emotional and that journey does take a person to the dark side of life. But her demons appear to be conquered. She has taken control of her life and decided where she wants to live and who she is as a person. And, fitting with her character, she is not compromising on anything.
Her big blue eyes sparkle when she speaks about her new life in Stellenbosch.
“I love Stellenbosch. It’s an academic town. I have a four-year-old son and the schools are good. I want to live in the country. Stellenbosch is a dorp, but it’s no Vereeniging. There is lots of art. Everyone is thinking and reading. We got a Vida here, but we also personally know the doctor and the dentist.”
For a moment I wish I had her life. A village in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. A successful career as a respected musician. A revolutionary who, through her love of art and her uncompromising attitude, has changed the lives of many.
But then I realise – there can be only one Karen Zoid.